Identifying asbestos in building materials now made easier

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An International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ)-accredited rapid service to analyse building materials for asbestos has been made available by a Christchurch company.

Following the Canterbury earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, testing for asbestos became a bottleneck for the rebuild and repair process. To meet demand, CRL Energy established a Christchurch facility to speedily and reliably test building materials for asbestos.

This laboratory facility, incorporating the latest polarized light microscopy equipment for asbestos detection, is now IANZ accredited to Australian Standard AS4964.

Christchurch lab manager Mike Young explains the different forms of asbestos he’s encountered since the earthquakes.

“The most frequently encountered form is chrysotile, or white asbestos, which comprises in excess of 90% of the asbestos that was used in the building industry,” Mr Young says.

“It is found in textured plasters, pipe lagging, flooring vinyl and many other materials. Amosite (brown) and crocidolite (blue) asbestos types are also fairly regularly encountered, most commonly in fibrous cement boards such as fibrolite and super-six roofing.

“Asbestos use in New Zealand reduced over time and was effectively ceased by the 1990s, so the likelihood of finding asbestos containing materials in newer buildings is low.”

Mr Young says all asbestos types are hazardous, and materials containing asbestos need to be handled with care.

“The hazard of asbestos primarily relates to breathing dust containing asbestos particles. If a material contains asbestos but is not degraded it presents little or no danger. It is when the material is degrading or when it is damaged that asbestos-laden dust may be released and become a significant hazard.”

Before working with any material that may contain asbestos it should be tested so it can be managed appropriately. Mr Young says anyone, including home owners, can sample suspect material. An asbestos sample submission form can be downloaded from the CRL Energy web site.
The following precautions should be taken:

• A few grams of material is enough for CRL Energy to conduct a robust investigation. 

• Wet the material first to avoid generating dust.

• Use a craft knife or scraper, not a power tool, to obtain a sample.

• Place the sample in a sealed container such as a clean jar or zip lock bag, and clearly identify the source of the sample on the container (address, room and position).

• Use one container per sample.

• Download and complete the sample form from the CRL Energy web site. This form can be emailed to CRL Energy provided the sample(s) and form are clearly linked.

• Pick up any debris generated with a wet rag (vacuum only if fitted with a HEPA filter) and dispose of the rag and debris in a sealed bag.
“If you need someone to survey your building, sample or remove asbestos-containing material, CRL Energy can also recommend economic, reliable companies to do that.”