Identifying Asbestos

How to Identify Asbestos

Asbestos is a dangerous substance that was first used in construction in the 19th century and the Industrial Revolution. It has been associated with numerous respiratory diseases and responsible for the deaths of over 4000 people a year. Common asbestos-related diseases are mesothelioma – an incurable and fatal cancer of the linings of the lungs and stomach; asbestosis, the development of scars on the tissue of the lungs and lung plaque, consisting of small clusters of calcified matter in the lung tissues.

The potentially fatal implications of inhaling asbestos require all construction workers to manage it with care. Anyone involved in the construction industry in Australia should complete an Asbestos Awareness course. This training instructs workers how to identify asbestos containing materials (ACMS) and how to manage them.

Identifying asbestos

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring substance that consists of agglomerated fibres of minerals. To the naked eye, however, it simply resembles a rock. It’s therefore difficult to definitively identify asbestos without further scrutiny. The appearance of asbestos also changes depending on where it’s found. Asbestos for insulation, piping, car brakes and fireproof blankets all look different. However, it’s possible to guess at the presence of this substance according to its location. For instance, older houses that are being renovated or dismantled almost definitely contain sections of asbestos.

Where to Find Asbestos?

Asbestos is most likely to be found behind electric meters, as well as in insulation boards and construction cement. It is also found in the cladding of roofs and outer walls of older houses. Corrugated iron roofs also contain asbestos. The clues for this can be found in the appearance of the iron roof itself, especially in deterioration. If the roof is crumbling, for instance, then it’s very likely to be a cement-asbestos mixture.

It can also be found in old pipe and boiler insulators, especially in older homes. Usually, asbestos of this type is resembles strips of old rag or rope wrapped around the piping. Used hessian sacks are also particularly hazardous, as they were often used for the transportation of asbestos in earlier years and may still be contaminated. Square, white ceiling tiles of old school and office buildings may also contain asbestos. This also applies to vinyl floor tiling.

How to Manage ACMs

Asbestos is actually safe to handle when it’s intact and undisturbed. If you think you’ve identified an ACM, take the appropriate measures to remove it yourself, or contact a licensed asbestos remover.

The remover should wear the appropriate gear for the safe handling of ACMs. This includes a protective suit and respirator – both of which should be disposed of after the asbestos has been successfully dealt with. Take note that an adequate respirator does not include the use of a simple dusk mask. All respirators should consist of P1 or P2 filters and should comply with Australia and New Zealand Standard 1716 laws.

After the asbestos has been safely removed, all protective gear should be disposed of immediately. The remover should also take a shower afterwards, even if there was no contact made with the minerals in question. Most municipalities will take in the disposed asbestos for free, provided that it is stored in a double-lined bag.

These strategies will ensure that asbestos poisoning is controlled and reduced. This, in turn, will limit instances of disease as caused by the mineral.

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