What is asbestos?

The term asbestos refers to six naturally occurring fibrous silicate minerals found in the veins of certain types of rocks. The fibres from these minerals are incredibly durable, fire resistant and resistant to most chemical attacks. In addition to being cheap to manufacture, these properties are the reasons that building material commonly used the product.

Building products often had Chrysotile, Amosite, and Crocidolite asbestos in them. Also called white, brown, and blue, respectively. In short, if the materials are in a good condition and remain undisturbed, they pose no risk to our health.

What are the health effects?

comparing the size of a human hair to an asbestos fibre
This shows the size difference between an asbestos fibre and a human hair

Inhaling asbestos fibres causes serious health effects. Asbestos materials in a poor condition or damaged can release fibres into the atmosphere. It is possible for certain types fibres to remain airborne for up to 72 hours.

The fibres are so small the naked eye cannot see them. Due to this, they can travel into the lungs and other areas of the respiratory tract. The human defence system is unable to remove the fibres and they become lodged in areas of the lungs. This results in fibrosis or tumours of these areas and causes potentially fatal diseases.

Where can it be found?

Over 3000 products are known to contain asbestos. Although New Zealand has now banned its use, many products still contain it. These materials are categorised into two forms – friable and non-friable or A Class and B Class, respectively. B Class material exists in a bonded form. For this reason, the material is unlikely to release fibres if is in good condition and is undisturbed. On the other hand, A class material is more dangerous because it has a higher potential to release fibres.

The images shown are examples of common materials found in homes and workplaces.

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