Learn About Asbestos

History, Health Dangers and Removal Procedures

We explore the history of asbestos Australia. We also look at the types of asbestos, health concerns and the handling, removal and licensing in South Australia.

History of Asbestos

Despite its presence dating back to prehistoric times, around 750,000 years ago to be precise, the significance and popularity of the mineral were not witnessed until the much revolutionary Industrial Age. Asbestos possesses fire retardant characteristics that qualified it as a requisite material for major industries such as the construction and the automobile industries, as well as in the military spectrum. The mineral’s novelty over the last few decades, however, has diminished, and it is now categorized as a harmful carcinogen responsible for diseases such as asbestosis and mesothelioma, an extremely virulent tumor affecting the lungs.

Asbestos is found in various parts of the world that include countries such as the United States, Brazil, Canada, Japan and Australia. The mineral is found in large natural deposits. While archaeologists records show that it was discovered almost 750, 000 years ago in the medieval era, large-scale mining and serious concentration on asbestos began in the late 19th century spanning significantly into the 20th century.

Asbestos in South Australia

In Australia specifically, the commercial production of asbestos began in the 1880’s maturing in the 1900’s triggered by the explosion of the industrial sector. The use of asbestos would later extensively continue till the late 1970s when the dangers of the mineral became more than glaring especially after the East Perth Power Station era in which various cases of asbestos-related ailments were witnessed due to negligence. Although the East Perth Power Station scenario in Western Australia is widely known, other parts of Australia majorly South Australia (SA) had significant manufacturing areas for asbestos that include:

  • Robertstown
  • Truro district
  • Flinders Rangers
  • Cowell

Due to the many cases of disease caused by the exposure to asbestos, the government ultimately banned the manufacture of the mineral in 1983 bringing about a prohibition to the production, distribution, storage, sale and the use of asbestos in Australia. There was, nonetheless, a continued use of asbestos in some parts of Australia until 2002 when there occurred complete halt to its usage.

Types of asbestos

There are categorically six different types of Asbestos as stipulated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency with all of them being classified as human carcinogens. All the six types of the mineral contain silicon, hydrogen, and oxygen considered the most prominent constituents of Asbestos. The six types of the mineral are further divided into two primary groups namely serpentine and amphibole. The two groups are mainly different in physical characterization such that serpentine asbestos is structured in layered form while amphibole asbestos possesses a chain like structure.

The six types of asbestos are grouped as follows:

  1. Amosite: Amosite asbestos, an amphibole, can be easily identified through its straight fibers and its unique brown coloring. It is composed of both iron and magnesium as the other components asides from silicon, oxygen and hydrogen. Amosite asbestos was mostly considered for use in a mix of various types of insulation materials.
  2. Chrysotile: Long, white and strategically curly, this form of asbestos is revered to be amongst the most common and lethal types of asbestos. Chrysotile makes up 90% of the asbestos ommercially used in the world. Chrysotile is considered the only asbestos in the serpentine category.
  3. Tremolite: This form of asbestos can range in terms of color such that it can be gray, white, brown or green as well as come in translucent forms similar to other various forms of asbestos. Tremolite unlike some forms of asbestos was never mined nor used on its own seeing as it occurred on other minerals such as vermiculite and talc contaminating them in the process.
  4. Crocidolite: Crocidolite is also an amphibole asbestos and is composed of various types of metals that include, iron, magnesium, and sodium and is usually blue with straight fibers. This form of asbestos is ranked as the most harmful a fact contributed to by its physical characterization.
  5. Anthophyllite: Anthophyllite asbestos, like tremolite, also ranges in color ranging from brown to gray to white. This form of Asbestos, similar to tremolite, was not independently sought or mined after but was also found in vermiculite and talc products. Products with Anthophyllite asbestos have a high risk to asbestos associated ailments due to contamination.
  6. · Actinolite: This form of asbestos is similar to both tremolite and anthophyllite in mining and use with a difference only witnessed in color and fiber. Actinolite has a dark green appearance with fibrous aggregates. It has commonly been recognized in paints, children’s toys and sometimes sealants.

Types of asbestos in South Australia

In South Australia, the available forms of asbestos with reference to location include:

  • Chrysotile (Robertstown, Cowell, Flinders Rangers)
  • Crocidolite (Truro district)
  • Tremolite (Truro district)

Friable and Non-Friable asbestos products

The classification of asbestos includes Friable and Non-Friable products. This classification focuses on the categorization of asbestos with regards to materials that contain the mineral.

Friable asbestos products

Friable asbestos containing materials are those materials with more than one per cent of of the mineralmeasured in either area or weight. The measurement, however, depends on whether the material is bulky or a sheet that can be easily pulverized, crumbled or made to powder by pressure from the hands.

Some examples of friable  materials include millboard, pipe lagging, and insulation products.

Non-Friable asbestos products

Non-Friable Asbestos materials unlike their counterparts are those materials with more than one percent of the mineral and cannot pulverize or crumbled by hand pressure. The classification of this group of materials far from friable materials is also considered complex. The first category of non-friable products includes resilient floor covering, roofing materials from asphalt, asbestos packing, and gaskets. The second category comprises any other non-friable material not grouped in the first category.

The two different categories of non-friable asbestos materials can, nonetheless, be marked by “Regulated Asbestos Containing Materials” which comprises all friable asbestos materials. It is imperative to note that non-friable asbestos materials can become friable with time due to the breaking down of other materials in them. This disintegration is often necessitated by either age or weather.

Asbestos can be found in cement roofing and floor tiles, fencing and wall lining sheets. Tremolite containing sand is also common in the area.

Health Dangers of asbestos

Health dangers associated with exposure to asbestos can be traced back to the 1890’s when ailments and diseases related to the lungs were becoming noticeable prevalent. It is important to reiterate that all forms are dangerous to the human health and are highlighted to cause to cancer. Every year, according to government records, asbestos causes the death of hundreds of individuals due to diseases such as lung cancer.

There, however, exist three major health effects relate to exposure to asbestos mainly airborne exposure:

  • Asbestosis
  • Pleural Plaques
  • Cancers
  • Pleural Plaques

Pleural plaques is characterized by the toughening of the membrane (pleura) found both on the outside of the lungs and the inside of the chest wall. While this condition is thought to be less life threatening, it can act as a prelude to another form of an asbestos connected disease.

The condition takes 5-10 years of asbestos exposure to be discovered.


Considered a dangerous condition to human health, asbestosis is triggered by the occurrence of fibrosis or scarring that happens on the inside of the lungs. The scarring of the lung tissues can be very hazardous as they limit the rate at which oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged in the bloodstream. The symptoms of asbestosis are conspicuous and include consistent and nagging coughing and, shortness of breath.

It takes a period of 10 years or more of exposure to asbestos for asbestosis to be detected.

Lung Cancer

This the most prevalent health danger of asbestos compared to the others. People exposed to asbestos have up to 55 times higher risk of lung cancer compared to asbestosis. Smokers exposed to asbestos fibers stand even more chance of developing lung cancer citing the extreme dangers to human health. The common cancer of the lung associated with asbestos is Mesothelioma, which is of two different types.

Pleural Mesothelioma

This is an extremely virulent form of mesothelioma that affects the membrane surrounding the chest cavity. It comes with serious symptoms that can further impede one’s health that includes, weight loss, pain in the chest and the lower back, weakness of the body, shortness of breath, and persistent coughing.

Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Also highly virulent, peritoneal mesothelioma concentrates on the membrane around the abdominal cavity. The symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma unlike pleural mesothelioma are not many but are can be equally curtailing. They include weight loss, nausea, weakness of the body and pain or swelling of the abdomen.Both types of mesothelioma take 20 years or more of exposure to asbestos to be detected.

All the diseases noted above are common to diseases caused by asbestos. Due to the malignant nature of exposure to asbestos, it is only inevitable that there exists a set of rules to govern and act as caveats to the handling and removal of asbestos.

Codes of Practice

The South Australian Government, for instance, has in place stipulated Codes of Practice mandated to be followed in the handling and removal of asbestos in SA. The Codes of Practice provide guidance on how an individual is to comply with the requisite requirements and obligations operational within work health and safety laws. They complement the Act and Regulations policies and are mandatory.

Some of the Codes of Practice in the handling and removal of asbestos are as follows:

  • First Aid in the Workplace
  • How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks
  • Confined Space
  • How to Safely Remove Asbestos
  • Spray Painting and Powder Coating
  • How to Manage and Control Asbestos in the Workplace
  • Excavation Work
  • Work Health and Safety Consultation Co-operation and Co-ordination


It is imperative to note that the above Codes of Practice and many others not listed mainly became functional in South Australia from 1 January 2013.

License for handling and removal of asbestos in South Australia

Asides from the Codes of Practice, the South Australian government adheres to strict licensing concerning the handling and removal of asbestos in the region. In this regard, the government mandates the issuances of two types of license stipulated for the handling and removal of the removal with the two licenses adjudged to govern the process being Asbestos Assessor Licence and Asbestos Removal Licence.

Asbestos Assessor Licence (5-year duration)

The provision of the Asbestos Assessor Licence is guided under South Australia’s regulation 475 that dictates that all licensed removals must undergo legal air monitoring conducted by an independent assessor licensed legally. This stipulation applies to all licensed asbestos removal regardless of class as will be discussed below.

Air monitoring is critical for revealing information on the exposure levels for workforce under licensed removal of asbestos.

South Australia introduced the Asbestos Assessor Licence on 1 January 2015. Before individual licensing Laboratories, commercially, were tasked with the monitoring. Regulation 489 by South Australia, however, has recently come to the scene to ensure individual licensing with regulation 528 directing for public availability of a register for Asbestos Assessor Licence holders.

Asbestos removal license

Asbestos removal licenses on the other side are categorized into two:

  1. Class A
  2. Class B

1. The Class A license is superior to the Class B license such that it allows a carrier to handle and remove any asbestos products.

2. The Class B license material is, nonetheless, restricted to the removal of Asbestos Cement products and a selection of non-friable asbestos products. Both Licenses expire after a duration of 5 years, and both require holders to be conversant with the South Australian Work Health and Safety Act 2012 and the adjudged Codes of Practice.

Asbestos Removal Procedures

According to the South Australian Work Health and Safety, asbestos removal should be conducted by licensed professionals.

For one, should removal be conducted when users are in a building, it is most often thoughtful and important to temporarily shift some of the users. Imperatively, the area associated with the removal should be sealed off to avoid further contamination. Polythene film, negative air pressure machines fitted with HEPA filters and duct tape are the most appropriate for sealing off the area in such instances. Sealing off the area is necessary for avoiding the letting out of asbestos fibers that might contaminate the surrounding area.

When using a vacuum for removal, only special vacuum cleaner specially designed to contain asbestos can be employed for safe cleaning when removing and after the removal of asbestos. Ordinary vacuums should be avoided since they tend to expel asbestos fibers aimlessly.

Should the building in which removal is being carried be closed from any possible users, sealing it off to avoid contamination of outside area should be done. For asbestos abatement in building that require demolishing, sealing is done for safe removal before demolition.

Asbestos Testing Procedures

Asbestos testing procedures are conducted in NATA accredited laboratories.

In testing asbestos, a small sample, usually 50 cent piece amount, is collected for analysis. Sampling is done with caution with the necessary precautions such as having on a P2 dust, double-bagging the collected sample in a zip lock bag taken. Bagging and labeling of the sample are done separately to avoid any confusion.

Testing and analysis are completely in two stages.

Firstly, an analyst breaks the sampled materials up using the necessary tools after which he/she proceeds to search for asbestos fibers by the use of a microscope.

Should fibers be found, they are extracted by the analyst who again proceeds to employ various specialized techniques for proper identification of the fibers.

It is important to note that asbestos testing be conducted on any material.

Australia, like the rest of the world equally suffered and continues to suffer the effects of the use asbestos and its negligence. South Australia strives to manage and minimize health dangers acquired from exposure to the mineral. Despite being one of the major regions to mine and manufacture asbestos, South Australia initiates strict regulations for safe handling and removal of the substance.

We hope you enjoyed this article. For further information don’t hesitate to contact us.