Frequently asked questions: Asbestos removal

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is the name for a group of minerals made up of many small fibres. It is usually only a risk to health when inhaled as fine dust. If you breathe this dust in, fibres can get stuck in your lungs. The risk to health increases with the number of fibres inhaled and with frequency of exposure.

Left undisturbed, asbestos is generally safe – but if the asbestos is exposed or damaged, it can be harmful. This is because exposed asbestos can become airborne and may then be breathed into the lungs.

 

Why are you testing for asbestos?

Before it was known that asbestos could harm your health, it was a popular building material because of its insulating, fire-resistant and reinforcing properties. Many old buildings contain asbestos.

TRC has all houses surveyed for asbestos by an independent company before we demolish them, whether they are suspected of contamination or not. This is to ensure we can remove any asbestos safely before the house is demolished, and is a legal requirement under the Health and Safety at Work (Asbestos) Regulations 2016.

 

Is there asbestos in the houses in Tamaki?

Most of the houses in Tāmaki were built in the 1950s and 1960s when asbestos was a popular building material. Any work to remove asbestos is carried out by organisations that are licenced for asbestos removal work by Worksafe NZ. The necessary precautions are taken to ensure the safety of both the workers and the surrounding neighbourhood including fencing off asbestos removal work areas, minimising breakage of asbestos during removal, keeping the asbestos wet during removal, shadow vacuuming (using a narrow nozzle of a special vacuum cleaner to ‘shadow’ the work and collect debris as it is generated) and ensuring the asbestos is wrapped in plastic before removal from site.

 

Why are workers wearing protective clothing and masks?

Workers who have constant exposure to asbestos over many years are at risk of getting asbestos-related diseases. Their protective clothing and breathing masks help to minimise these risks and are required by health and safety regulations. This also ensures that their normal clothing is protected from asbestos contamination.

 

Is there any risk to people in neighbouring houses?

No, the risk from exposure to asbestos in a non-work setting is low. Generally, asbestos-containing materials that are in a good condition will not release asbestos fibres. Asbestos is only a health-risk if fibres are released and inhaled into lungs. The risk to health increases with the number of fibres inhaled and with frequency of exposure.

 

Why is there asbestos in the ground?

Stormwater runoff from roofing and other materials containing asbestos can lead to a build-up of fibres in the soil surrounding buildings. Building offcuts were also left on the ground at building sites, causing contamination in the soil today.

 

What is the typical process for asbestos removal?

Any asbestos is removed by specialist operators that are Worksafe NZ approved. The necessary precautions are taken to ensure the safety of both the workers and the surrounding neighbourhood. Workers removing asbestos wear protective clothing and breathing masks.

During removal, asbestos sheets are kept wet at all times to reduce the release of dust. The sheets are taken off intact if possible and are carefully stacked. Once they are stacked they are wrapped in plastic. The stacked sheets are removed from the site as soon as possible in covered bins. The area is then cleaned and any asbestos dust is carefully collected and disposed of safely.

 

What guarantees can you give for my safety?

We take every precaution to prevent the release of asbestos dust including engaging licenced asbestos removal organisations, fencing off asbestos removal work areas, minimising breakage of asbestos during removal, keeping the asbestos wet during removal, shadow vacuuming (using a narrow nozzle of a special vacuum cleaner to ‘shadow’ the work and collect debris as it is generated) and ensuring the asbestos is wrapped in plastic before removal from site.

 

What do I do if I think my house has asbestos?

If you think you have asbestos in your home, you can get advice from a health protection officer at Auckland Regional Public Health Service on 09 623 4600 (available 24 hours, 7 days a week).