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Asbestos is the name for a group of minerals made up of many small fibres. It is a risk to health only when inhaled (breathed in) as fine dust.
Left undisturbed, asbestos is safe – but if exposed or damaged, it can be harmful.
If you breathe this dust in, fibres can get stuck in your lungs and body. This can lead to breathing difficulties or even lung cancer.
Asbestos has been a popular building material because of its exceptional insulating, fire-resistant and reinforcing properties. Many old buildings contain asbestos.
The risk of developing asbestos-related diseases is very low for low-level short-term exposure in the home. This is because the risk of disease is directly related to the amount of exposure. Short-term low-level exposure in the home is likely to pose negligible risk of disease.
Asbestos-related diseases generally occur in workers who have had heavy exposure over extended periods of time. For example people who were engaged in the manufacture of asbestos-containing material.
Asbestos poses a risk if it is no longer adequately contained in the material it came in (such as due to damage, being cut or drilled into during building work, or wear and tear). For this reason, the Ministry of Health advises home owners not to undertake home maintenance on materials that may contain asbestos, or dispose of such materials themselves.
If you are worried about asbestos in your home talk to a health protection officer about what to do. You can find one at your local public health unit.
You can arrange to have your house tested for the presence of asbestos fibres. For a list of accredited laboratories, search on the keyword “asbestos” on the IANZ website.
See an approved list of laboratories on the New Zealand Demolition and Asbestos Association (NZDAA) website.
It may be best to leave the asbestos undisturbed, or to seal or enclose it.
Don’t take risks with your and your family’s health.
If you want to remove or seal asbestos, the Ministry of Health advises that people use WorkSafe NZ-certified contractors to do any work with asbestos. A list of people who are currently certified to remove asbestos from commercial and domestic premises can be found on the business.govt.nz website.
WorkSafe New Zealand
WorkSafe New Zealand is the workplace health and safety regulator. A range of information on asbestos is available on its website, including a series of eight factsheets on asbestos and how to register with the Asbestos Exposure Database.
Better Health Channel
The Victoria (Australia) state government provides online consumer-focused health and medical information.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Health information from the US government.