Asbestos cement products and fibres
I often receive calls and emails from homeowners who are concerned about the possibility of asbestos cement products in their homes. Usually, the building materials of concern are ceiling boards. However, be aware that homes built before 2008 may have panelling, fascia boards, barge boards and window sills that contain asbestos.
Because of the health hazard that asbestos and asbestos cement products pose, South Africa has banned mining and use of asbestos since 2008.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring silicate mineral made up of long, thin fibrous crystals. Its heat resistance, its sound insulation properties and also its strength made it useful in construction. Therefore, many houses and buildings constructed before 2008 may contain asbestos.
Where would you find it?
A great many products and materials used in buildings contain asbestos. The assumption is that buildings constructed pre 1950 are asbestos-free, but it would be wrong not to check. Older buildings will have had maintenance, repairs and possibly renovations done to them, which may have included asbestos materials.
Asbestos products in use in South Africa until mid-2008 include:
- Asbestos cement roof tiles, shingles, flowerpots and garden ornaments.
- Textured paint and patching compounds were used on wall and ceiling joints.
- Artificial ashes and embers are used in gas-fired fireplaces.
- Older stove-top pads may have some asbestos compounds.
- Asbestos cement boards to protect walls and floors around wood-burning stoves.
- Some vinyl floor tiles and the backing of vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives.
- An asbestos blanket or tape is used to wrap hot water and steam pipes in the older houses.
- Asbestos cement roof sheeting, flues and ventilation systems.
- Oil and coal furnaces, electric panel heaters and door gaskets may have asbestos insulation.
- Asbestos cement boards in partition walls, fire-proofing panels, ceiling boards, ceiling tiles and panels below windows.
- Houses built between 1930 and 1950 may have loose-fill asbestos as insulation between cavity walls and under floorboards.
- Asbestos in carpet underfelt, in fuse boxes and in metal cladding.
- Window cills, barge boards and fascia boards made of asbestos cement.
- Some waterproofing products also contained asbestos.
Should you go looking for it?
Undisturbed asbestos products usually pose no problems. Therefore, don’t look for it unless you believe it may have perished, or is unsafe. Furthermore, it is often difficult to tell the difference between asbestos materials and non-asbestos materials. We are often not aware of any exposure to asbestos.
How do you protect yourself?
Do not work on an item you suspect may contain asbestos! In addition, protective equipment is imperative when working with asbestos. This includes a suitable face mask, disposable overall etc. Moreover, you should wash your hands and face regularly and never sand, drill or saw asbestos materials! Be sure to clean up and vacuum the area where any work with asbestos has taken place on a daily basis!
How should you dispose of asbestos–cement products?
Always remove and dispose of asbestos cement ceiling boards and other asbestos products in a responsible and safe manner! Therefore, never just chuck it in a skip. Instead, make sure you double bag it and dispose of it properly at a municipal tip.
Lastly, the South African Department of Labour’s Asbestos Regulations governs the removal and disposal of larger quantities of asbestos-containing products. As a result, only approved asbestos disposal contractors can carry out the disposal of large quantities of asbestos and asbestos materials.
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