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Identifying Asbestos

Date Added: December 08, 2011 06:50:30 AM
Author: jack_russell
Category: Asbestos Removal by Capital City

 Identifying asbestos in the home or workplace for subsequent removal is not necessarily straightforward, but the chances are that if the building contains materials originating before the 1980's then there is a strong possibility that there will be some asbestos present.


It should be noted that an Australian national ban on asbestos came into effect on 31st December 2003. All states and territories have legislation in place, outlining the responsibilities of people and organisations with regard to asbestos especially in the workplace.


Asbestos is a series of naturally forming silicate minerals and was mined in Australia from the 1940's to the 1980's. Asbestos, unlike other minerals is made up of fibres instead of particles, whose desirable properties as an excellent insulator ( both for noise and temperature), good tensile strength, high resistance to heat, fire, electricity, moisture and chemical corrosion made it a valuable product amongst manufacturers since the 19th century.


These properties coupled with the fact that asbestos is relatively cheap to produce and can be extensively moulded or shaped, means its use has been widespread.


The problem with asbestos is that its fibres are so small, that when disturbed can easily become airborne and remain aloft for some considerable time, where they can be inhaled into the deepest part of the lungs and cause such devastating diseases as Asbestosis, Malignant mesothelioma and Lung cancer.


Asbestos has been used in over 3000 products and materials throughout Australia and can be found anywhere, but are particularly prevalent in products that are heavily exposed to heat, friction or moisture that would rapidly cause other materials to deteriorate.


Asbestos cement sheeting or “Fibro” is probably where you are most likely to find this material in a house or building. It can be found in flat form in ceilings and internal / external walls, or in corrugated form known as “super six” or “super eight “, on roofs, fences and as external wall cladding.


Other Common Applications For Asbestos Include:


  • Brake and clutch pads in pre 1992 vehicles

  • Vinyl sheeting and tiles for flooring

  • Pipe and duct insulation

  • Air conditioning units

  • External guttering

  • Boiler lagging


Identifying asbestos by sight alone is not possible as the fibres themselves are microscopic, however when making a visual assessment of the suspect material you can consider a number of factors:


  • The age of the building, pre 1980's

  • Location of the material and its intended use e.g. pipe work in the boiler room of a pre-60's building is highly likely to contain asbestos

  • Material may be damaged so evidence of asbestos fibre can be present


Whilst its presence may be suspected at a location, visually identifying asbestos will be made more difficult if the material is painted or coated in some way and is in an undamaged state ( IE without a mass of visible fibres).




Tips On Identifying Asbestos In Fibro Sheeting


It is important to note that not all Fibro is made with asbestos, the largest Australian Fibro sheet manufacturer James Hardie & Co was phasing asbestos out of its product line between 1981-1987. with modern fibre cement sheeting products being made using cellulose fibre alternatives.


Any structure or house built between the 50's and 70's is likely to contain asbestos Fibro, also be careful of buildings constructed up to the mid 80's as asbestos was still being phased out.


The 40mm x 6mm and 75mm x 8mm battens used to cover over the join between Fibro sheets is a sure sign of asbestos, also note the nails used to attach the sheets, they will have a flat rather than pointed end to reduce the chance of fracturing.


Older asbestos fibro often has a distinctive dimple pattern on the back as compared with a softer grain of modern board.


The safest course of action to follow if you cannot be sure whether construction material contains asbestos is to assume it does, especially if it is cracked, peeling crumbling or blistering and arrange to have it sampled by a properly accredited laboratory.


Asbestos fibres can be seen with a special microscope at an accredited laboratory, using a technique of polarised light microscopy (PLM) .The asbestos content of the sample is analysed with the results usually being determined as a percentage.


More information about identifying asbestos in laboratories can be obtained from The National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA), Australia, they are the organisation responsible for providing assurance of technical competence amongst testing laboratories through industry best practice.