Asbestos is the generic term for a number of fibrous silicate minerals and was commonly mixed with cement to form building products. Until the mid-1980s, Asbestos was widely used in a range of commercial and home building materials. Asbestos becomes a health risk when fibres are released into the air and breathed in, and is linked to Asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Work health and safety regulation 2011 R425 and R429 requires workplaces to have an Asbestos building register and Asbestos management plan. Reviews must be undertaken when physical changes occur in the workplace or when Asbestos is removed or found.
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When Asbestos fibres are bonded to another material, such as a cement or resin binder, it is known as bonded Asbestos. It cannot be crumbled, pulverised or reduced to a powder by hand pressure when dry. Common uses in buildings include: flat (fibro), corrugated or compressed Asbestos-cement (AC) sheeting; water, drainage and flue pipes and floor tiles.
Friable Asbestos material is any Asbestos material that can be crumbled, pulverized, or reduced to powder by the pressure of an ordinary human hand.
From Bonded Asbestos to Friable Asbestos
Often bonded Asbestos materials have become friable as the other materials in them have broken down with age and weather or have or have been, subjected to sanding, grinding or cutting. Asbestos materials may also become friable ie crumbled, pulverized, or powdered by the forces on the material in the course of demolition or renovation operations.
Friable Asbestos is dangerous because it releases toxic fibers into the air. Breathing in these microscopic mineral fibers is what makes people sick, even though symptoms may not show for decades.
The fibrous or fluffy spray applied Asbestos (ie Mr Fluffy) materials found in many buildings for fireproofing, insulating, sound proofing, or decorative purposes are considered friable. Pipe insulation found in numerous buildings is also considered friable, though it may be fairly well contained by other fabrics, tape, paint, or plastic.
Burning any Asbestos containing material, such as wallboard, Asbestos papers, or ceiling tiles also releases Asbestos fibers and changes the classification from bonded to friable. Cutting or drilling them, especially with power tools, will also release fibers. Anything done to building materials that may raise dust will cause dangers if the materials contain Asbestos. Once released, the Asbestos fibers are light enough to hang suspended in the air for hours and days, long after other dust from the project has settled.
Naturally Occurring Asbestos
Asbestos is a commercial term, however all Asbestos comes from nature. The term ‘naturally occurring Asbestos’ refers to fine fibrous minerals of the serpentine and amphibole groups that occur in rocks or soil.
This material may be disturbed by weathering or human activities such as ground-disturbing activities such as road building, agriculture, forestry, mining, quarrying and urban development which causes the fine fibres to disburse into the air where they could be breathed in.
The geological occurrence of Asbestos
Although Asbestos and asbestiform minerals may form in a wide range of rock types, large accumulations are usually associated with ultramafic rocks which are typically dark rocks rich in magnesium and iron with relatively low silica and potassium and composed mostly of minerals such as olivine and pyroxene.
Naturally occurring Asbestos in NSW
Major deposits in NSW include slip fibre and cross-fibre accumulations at Woodsreef and Baryulgil Chrysotile Asbestos deposits. Tremolite is known to be associated with Ordovician Byng Volcanics, with the Ordovician to Early Silurian Rockley Volcanics, the Fifield Alaskan ultramafic complexes west of Dubbo and is also associated with amphibolites in the Curnamona Geological region around Broken Hill.
Based on the assessment where known locations of Asbestos has been identified and probable sites where Asbestos indicator minerals and/or textures have been identified, 6 694 479 626 km2 or about 0.83% of NSW is affected by rocks with significant potential to host naturally occurring Asbestos.
The main naturally occurring Asbestos areas with potential impacts from disturbing activities are:
The major serpentinite belts including the Great Serpentinite Belt in the New England region along with the Coolac Serpentinite in southwest NSW and serpentinites associated with the Gilmore Suture in south central NSW.
Ordovician to Early Silurian rocks east of Orange.
Ultramafic complexes in central west NSW including areas near Fifield southwest of Dubbo.
Many areas close to these sediments, such as the Great Australian basin and most sedimentary rocks such as occur around Greater Sydney and many parts of NSW have no potential for naturally occurring Asbestos.