Background & History

Background & History

“Asbestos is the term for several fibrous minerals regulated under New Zealand law that are known to cause fatal or potentially fatal illnesses when inhaled. Asbestos does not present a known significant health risk in other situations. The symptoms of illness may not appear for 20 or more years after exposure.” (BRANZ, 2017)

For many years asbestos was used in building products and for other industrial uses in NZ.  It was cheap and durable, and had valuable properties like being fire-proof and a good insulator.  A naturally occurring mineral, asbestos was mined and exported from a number of countries around the world from as early as the 1800’s. It was initially thought to be safe, but evidence of the harmful side effects of inhaling asbestos fibres began to emerge in the 1930’s.

Asbestos containing materials cannot be legally sold or used in NZ any longer.  However, there are many houses and commercial buildings that were built using them.  There are also sites where soils have been contaminated with asbestos fibres from buildings that are or were there.  As a general guideline, buildings constructed before 1999 (or sites that had buildings on them prior to 1999) are at particular risk of asbestos being present in building materials and/or soils.

Identifying asbestos in building materials or soils is an important part of managing the health and safety of people living and working around them.  It is a specialized area of work, and Analytica Laboratories strongly recommends consulting with experts who are qualified to assess asbestos risk and (if necessary) develop a plan for its ongoing management if you have concerns about asbestos in a property, building, or waste material.

Our laboratories are accredited to identify and quantify the asbestos present in samples submitted to us, following guidelines published in Australia and more recently in New Zealand.

Further Reading & Reference Documents

These documents contain background information about asbestos, its historical use, and the human health risks associated with it.  They also contain details of sampling and laboratory testing procedures that are used for various sample types. They have been published in Australia and then New Zealand since 2004, and are the basis of the management of asbestos management and disposal in New Zealand.

General Information – including types of asbestos and ways it has been used in NZ

Asbestos - Ministry of Health NZ website

Asbestos Identification – the testing process used to see whether asbestos is present in a sample

AS4964 (2004) “Method for the Qualitative Identification of Asbestos in Bulk Samples”. - Available from Standards Australia (SAI Global Store)

Asbestos Sampling and Testing In Air and Soil

NOHSC:3003 (2005) “Guidance Note on the Membrane Filter Method for Estimating Airborne Asbestos Fibres - 2nd Edition” - Available from Safe Work Australia (SWA)

NZ Guidelines for Assessing and Managing Asbestos in Soil - Available from BRANZ

Guidelines for the Assessment, Remediation and Management of Asbestos-Contaminated Sites in Western Australia  - Available from Government of Western Australia Department of Health

Asbestos Removal in New Zealand

Management and removal of asbestos - Available from WorkSafe


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