Asbestos: What are the risks?
I’m sure you will have heard about asbestos, but just how much do you know about it? Do you have asbestos in your home? Have you ever considered if you have asbestos in your home? And do you know the risks? At Coastal connections, we come across asbestos containing switchboards rather frequently and feel that many people do not know or understand the possible dangers.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral, made up of many tiny fibres. Due to its inexpensiveness, strength, fire and heat resistance, asbestos was once a hugely popular, much-used building material. Used in various forms throughout the home for construction purposes. From floor coverings to ceilings, to home insulation and electrical switchboards. Asbestos use was rife from the 1930s through to the mid-1980s. It was then that NZ stopped producing asbestos-containing building materials in 1987 (not really that long ago!). New Zealand finally banned asbestos from importation and exportation in 2016.
Do I have asbestos in my home?
As asbestos use in construction materials was common, if your home was built between 1930-late 1980s, and has not been recently renovated, then your home is likely to contain asbestos in some form.
What are the risks?
Asbestos is not harmful in itself unless the fibres are broken down and released into the air. In other words, as long as it is left alone, not damaged or drilled then asbestos will cause no harm being present within your home.
Once asbestos is in the air, the particles can then be inhaled and cause long term, irreversible damage. The people most at risk from asbestos are construction workers or home DIYers (and their families due to contamination of clothing). Living around disturbed asbestos is certainly not good for your health.
According to The Ministry of Health (2018) “Asbestos is a proven human carcinogen, and all forms of asbestos can cause cancer”. Inhaling significant quantities of airborne asbestos causes:
- asbestosis (scarring of lung tissue)
- mesothelioma (malignant tumours, cancers that develop around the lungs or intestine)
- pleural plaques (thickening of membranes around the lungs)
- cancer of the lung, larynx and ovary.
These are certainly not health issues that should be thought lightly of. The issues related to asbestos do not rear their ugly heads until way after the initial exposure.
What can I do about it?
Be aware! This is the most important thing you can do. As explained, if asbestos is left undisturbed it is generally not an issue. But if you are planning on any renovation work, it is so important that you are aware of your home contains asbestos before you or a tradesperson starts to tear into it. This includes small renovation work. For example, changes to your switchboard.
We have on many occasions come across asbestos switchboards that have been drilled – a big no-no! Drilling these boards without proper care and attention is not only putting the electrician in danger but also you and your family by releasing fibres into the air ready for inhalation.
If you appoint a tradesperson to complete work to your home, they should know what they are looking out for. It also pays if you as the homeowner are also aware, so you can keep your family safe.
If asbestos is Friable (crumbling) or the area is greater than 10m2, removal must be done by a registered removal expert.
If you want to know more, read this article: asbestos: information for homeowners.
or head over to our blog post: 1o Reasons why you should upgrade your switchboard.
The Ministry of Health, 2018. How asbestos can harm health. [Online]
Available at: https://www.health.govt.nz/your-health/healthy-living/environmental-health/hazardous-substances/asbestos/how-asbestos-can-harm-health
[Accessed 01 May 2019].
”“Asbestos is a proven human carcinogen, and all forms of asbestos can cause cancer”The Ministry of Health(2018)