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HealthInfo Canterbury

Asbestos

Asbestos is a mineral made up of small fibres. In the past, it was used in building materials because of its strength and heat-resistance.

The most common place to find asbestos in New Zealand homes is in asbestos cement. It can also be in floor backing, textured ceilings, lagging around pipes and insulation.

Asbestos was used a lot in New Zealand until the 1980s. After that, the health risks became known and it was phased out. Houses built before 1984 are most at risk of containing asbestos.

The harmful effects of asbestos

When someone breathes in asbestos dust, the small fibres get into the lungs. The effects of asbestos exposure can take as long as 40 years to show themselves. Even so, asbestos-related lung disease is rare. More often than not, small amounts of exposure to asbestos at work or in the home do not result in long-term harmful effects.

Asbestos exposure can cause:

Exposure to asbestos

Important

If you may have been exposed to asbestos in the past, report any lung symptoms like persistent cough, breathing problems and coughing up blood to your GP.

If you have lung symptoms, they could be the result of exposure to asbestos up to 40 years ago. Your GP may ask you to have some tests. These could include a chest X-ray, a CT scan of your chest and spirometry.

Exposure around your house or from earthquake damage

The risk of harm from exposure to asbestos around your house is very low.

Even if your home contains materials with asbestos, these won’t cause any harm if they're in good condition. There can be a risk if the surface is disturbed such as by drilling or sanding during renovations.

Any asbestos exposure around your house following the Canterbury earthquakes and during earthquake repairs is unlikely to have caused any harm.

See the Ministry of Health's Asbestos advice for householders for more detailed information about asbestos in the home.

You should take precautions to avoid breathing in asbestos fibres during any home repairs or renovations.

Exposure to asbestos through your work

You're most at risk if you've worked with asbestos in the past. For example, in the shipbuilding, construction, insulation, electrical, pipe fitting or demolition industries. The risk is greater if you've worked with asbestos over many years.

Most workers in the construction industry who were potentially exposed to a higher level of asbestos in early earthquake repairs have been identified and reported to WorkSafe New Zealand.

If you may have been exposed to asbestos through your job, you, your employer or your GP will need to notify WorkSafe New Zealand. If your health needs to be monitored, this will be arranged through WorkSafe New Zealand. Usually your employer will pay for this.

Your GP should also lodge an ACC Claim.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by community respiratory physician, Canterbury DHB. Last reviewed June 2021.

Sources

See also:

Silicosis

Page reference: 321684

Review key: HIASB-321684