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The management of asbestos in the non-occupational environment

Chemical control Public health New Zealand

This 2017 revised edition builds on the 1997, 2007, 2013 and 2016 editions. Changes to the guidelines include:

  • advice on health hazards of ingesting  asbestos has been updated
  • references to the two resources All About Asbestos and Removing Asbestos from the Home were updated as these underwent major revisions.

These guidelines are directed at non-workplace exposure to asbestos in the air and to help public health units (PHUs) of district health boards address public concerns and give sensible advice. In addition to drawing together background information, it suggests a protocol for a response related to the likely level of risk to health and considers how risks may be evaluated and communicated.

The guidelines provide guidance to PHUs on how to approach asbestos enquiries and how to manage interagency involvement. These measures will require cooperation and coordination at a local level by each agency and should involve formal agreements on how to proceed.

Properly applied, the guidelines will help to determine:

  • the risk of an asbestos hazard
  • appropriate advice on managing the risk, including appropriately communicating the risk.

People may be exposed to asbestos in non-occupational settings, primarily in and around the home. Asbestos exposure may also occur to a limited degree through para-occupational exposure, such as living in the vicinity of asbestos-related industries or bringing home contaminated clothes, tools, etc. The general population may also be exposed from living close to an asbestos-containing waste site or from a variety of asbestos-containing products, from poorly performed asbestos removal, or from living with deteriorating asbestos material.

Some public concern continues to be expressed about asbestos-cement products, which were used widely in New Zealand buildings until the mid 1980s. These products normally provide a matrix that binds asbestos fibres, preventing their release, but drilling or sawing, especially with power tools, that disturbs or damages the material can lead to fibres being released into the air. There is concern that the fibres released by such mechanical work may be a hazard to health.

These guidelines exclude the following places and activities:

  • places of work
  • ambient (outside) air
  • drinking-water
  • manufactured mineral fibres, such as wool, glass.

The agencies that are potentially involved with managing enquiries concerning asbestos include PHUs, regional councils, WorkSafe New Zealand and territorial authorities.

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