Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibre found in certain types of rock. It was used in a variety of building products including Decramastic tiles before 1985, Super 6 roofing, fibre cement claddings, shingles, fire rated putty, vinyl kitchen and bathroom tiles, paper underlays, rainwater systems, bitumen products such as DPC, textured ceilings, and also used to deaden sound underneath stainless-steel kitchen sinks. Broadly speaking there are two types of asbestos products: friable and non-friable.

5,000 tonnes of asbestos was imported annually into NZ between the 1960’s – 1970’s; reaching a peak of 8,500 tonnes in 1975, and was used in an estimated 3,000 different products. In 1984 blue and brown asbestos was banned, although it took another 15 years before the white type of asbestos was banned in NZ in 1999.

It can take 40 – 46 years before the potent effects of this deadly fibre to affect individual’s lungs. Asbestos related deaths is the number 1 workplace killer in New Zealand, with 170 people dying every year in this country as a direct result of inhaling asbestos fibres.

Friable asbestos products can be crumbled, pulverised, or reduced to powder by hand pressure and this type of is known as class A. Some examples of these products include the likes of roping, and lagging products, woven asbestos fire blankets, sprayed products used for heat shielding and protection, and insulation in residential housing.

Nonfriable refers to the type of product that cannot be crushed, crumbled, pulverised, or reduced to powder by hand pressure alone and is known as Class B. This type relies on the asbestos being bonded by cement, vinyl, resin, or similar material and whilst still considered dangerous is less dangerous than the friable type. It is estimated that approximately 97% of building products used were non-friable. Damaged or broken asbestos products which are non-friable may release asbestos fibres initially but will generally be contained within the product provided further damage or disruption does not occur. The exception to this rule is when the product becomes weathered or disturbed in which case fibres will continue to be released and cause danger.

On the 4th April 2016 Worksafe NZ brought in new laws surrounding asbestos with all Class A products (friable) and Class B products over 10 m2 in size requiring certified and licenced asbestos specialists for removal – refer:

Generally, most homes circa 1990 onwards are considered generally asbestos free, however any building built prior to 2000 should also be considered for possible asbestos content, due to old Australian product still being imported into NZ.

Despite being illegal to manufacture asbestos products in New Zealand, it is not illegal to use these products in new homes – in fact F2 AS/1 of the Building Code makes allowances for it! Even in 2017 it is not uncommon for distributors to import asbestos fibre cement products into New Zealand for use on new residential homes.  Often these products are used by semi-skilled immigrant labour with little or no workplace safety training; with the product being fixed onto new homes, in growing suburban neighbourhoods.

As building inspectors completing pre-purchase surveys and building reports for clients the most common areas we find asbestos are:

  • Cladding – examples include Duroc, Polite, & James Hardie products
  • Vinyl – normally found in thermoplastic tiles – sometimes with a yellow backing
  • Insulation – normally blown and sprayed types and including Vermiculite
  • Textured ceilings – often with silver and gold flakes, including Glamortex and whispered ceilings

A common problem we are also identifying are where HRV, DVS, or similar home ventilation systems have been installed in the ceiling space exhaust and exhaust out into the living spaces. Where friable asbestos products are contained in the roof space such as some forms of insulation, or non-friable roofing materials such as Super-6 allow fibres to dissipate within the ceiling space, these ventilation systems suck up and pump air from the roof cavity into the living areas below. The potential to cause harmful effects including lung disease, asbestosis, or mesothelioma resulting in death to the occupants of these houses is huge and in our opinion currently understated.

When sanding back and painting exterior cladding it is imperative not to disturb the surface or grey cement fibre that many of these weatherboards and sheets contain. Doing so enables asbestos fibres to become airborne, enabling these fibres to be inhaled and enabling the fibres to become lodged in the wall lining of the lungs which can ultimately result in death.

Our inspectors are trained to take samples and identify certain types of asbestos, and identification is undertaken through an accredited IANZ laboratory testing facility with rigorous testing procedures.

Don’t risk your health or that of your family’s. Contact one of our friendly and helpful home inspectors today for a no obligation quote today; and remember peace of mind doesn’t cost - it pays! Phone: 0800 487 884

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