Audio Podcast available at the bottom of this post or on itunes.

  • 2:43 What is Asbestos?
  • 3:38 Blue, White and Brown Asbestos
  • 3:57 Why is Asbestos rock a heath hazard?
  • 5:04 20-30 million fibres in a short pencil line…
  • 5:20 Which damages the lung
  • 6:00 The fibres can not be expelled once in the lungs
  • 7:00 Diseases caused and health issues from asbestos
  • 8:30 Where is asbestos found in your home?
  • 10:41 Where is asbestos found in the workplace?
  • 12:19 How to positively identify if you have asbestos
  • 13:19 Asbestos is still being imported into New Zealand
  • 14 :44 Get help to work out who should take the asbestos sample
  • 17:26 How to remove asbestos
  • 18:38 The Bra-Cup filter
  • 19:18 LISTEN to this story – don’t take asbestos home
  • 22:25 Get more advice

“20-30 million asbestos fibres could fit in the thickness of a pencil line an inch long…” – Tony – Tweet Me
“Asbestos is still being imported into New Zealand as part of a product(s)…” – Tony – Click to Tweet

Tony:               Welcome back listeners. Tony Collins here from Safety Hub and today we’re going to talk about one of the biggest health issues in the workplace. That is around asbestos. Today I’ve got Linda Dwyer from Capital Environmental Services. I met Linda about a month ago at a presentation on asbestos and I really valued that information because I am still doing home renovations at the moment. From her presentation and the information and knowledge I gained I was able to take action and pretty much assure my wife and myself that our kids were not going to be put at harm by the work we were doing. Of course asbestos in the workplace as well and this is a great opportunity to get an expert who’s had many years’ experience dealing with this particular health hazard. That’s why I’ve asked Linda and she’s agreed to talk all about it for us. Thank you Linda for agreeing to this.

Linda:             You’re welcome.

Tony:               To kick us off, are you able to just briefly explain to the audience a little bit about your experience and what you bring to the table?

Linda:             When I left school I did nursing. I did my nursing training and finished shortly before I got married. Got married and moved to the big city and didn’t go back nursing. I started work in my early 30s after I’d had my children, with the DSIR and I’ve worked in the asbestos lab since about 1989 through DSIR, EI, HFS, ESR. They sold us off in 1996 which is when we became Capital Environmental Services.

Tony:               Sure. These companies, for overseas listeners as well, are major …

Linda:             DSIR was internationally recognized. ESR still is by most people. We were considered not core business, being an analytical lag, but not really into research, so they sold us off.

Tony:               Sure. Do you have experience out in the field as well?

Linda:             I was a lot younger when I started and yes, I used to go out and do the testing and taking samples and doing surveys. I’ve got a little bit long in the tooth and a little bit wide in the beam and I no longer do that, but we’ve got young men in the laboratory that go out and do what I used to do 30 years ago basically.

Tony:               Okay. For people who don’t know anything about asbestos, can you tell me a little bit about it?

Linda:             Asbestos is rock. It’s dug out of the ground. It’s a naturally occurring substance. It’s not that common in the ground in New Zealand because it’s made from very old rock and New Zealand is pretty new, but it’s got some very useful properties. It’s nonconductive; it’s insulating; it’s easily gathered and used; it splits into fibres, and it’s just a very useful mineral.

Tony:               Cheap?

Linda:             Rock out of the ground is pretty cheap, yeah.

Tony:               (Laughs).

Linda:             There’s no real manufacturing cost other than the crushing and milling. Blue asbestos was mined extensively in Wittenoom in Australia and if you do a search on Wittenoom, you’ll find they closed the place down. The town’s been abandoned and I don’t think anybody lives within a 50-mile radius. It was pretty bad. White asbestos is taken from Russia, China, United States, Canada. Brown asbestos is mostly South Africa.

Tony:               Okay, so why is this rock a problem? How can it hurt people?

Linda:             It’s fibrous. This had being developed by great pressure and great heat. The crystals have lined up in lovely friables, rather than crystallizing into little shards and lumps and bumps. They line up for amosite and crocidolite which is the brown and blue asbestos. They line up to crystal structures very much like I-beams in a building only a lot, lot smaller, so they split along the length rather than break in half and you end up with very fine … very, very fine friables. Amosite, which is serpentine, is a bit more corkscrewy, but it still breaks lengthwise rather than breaks in half. You end up with very long, very fine … less than 2.5 microns into the bottom of the lungs, breathable fibres.

Tony:               Sure, sure, so what’s a hair normally at?

Linda:             5, 6, 7, 8 microns, depending on what nationality you are. If you draw a pencil line, in that pencil line you could fit … if you made it an inch-long pencil line … you could probably fit 20 or 30 million of these fibres.

Tony:               Okay, okay. We get an awful lot of these tiny fibres potentially reaching into the bottom of the lungs. I’m assuming because your body can’t eject it that small.

Linda:             It gets caught in the bottom of the lungs. You’d breathe in dust and it gets into the lungs. You’ve got things called microphages and enzymes that deal with the stuff that goes into your lungs. It basically cleans it out and you cough it out, but asbestos being sharp and being not affected by acid, stays there. Through many different processes it causes three or four different types of disease. I’m not up on the process that much, but we can’t expel it. We don’t expel it. It gets into the bottom of the lungs and it stays there. It doesn’t dissolve.

Tony:               That’s pretty important. Once you’ve taken in a sufficient amount, whatever that is …

Linda:             It’s different for everybody. It is dose related, but for some people the dosage is a whole lot lower than it is for others.

Tony:               Once it’s in your lung, there’s no way to …

Linda:             … get it out.

Tony:               … get it out and over a long period of time …

Linda:             … if you work with it with a long period of time and you get a little bit every day, it’s not so good. If you get one exposure, it may not be an issue for you or it may. There are people that die of mesothelioma which is the real killer that comes with asbestos, with no known asbestos exposure, so those people don’t know where they’ve been exposed to asbestos. There are people in their 20s and 30s dying of mesothelioma, so they’ve been exposed somewhere as children.

Tony:               What sort of disease does it create and how big of an issue is this for the population and therefore for an individual listening to this and apply it looking at their workplace?

Linda:             The stats are available on New Zealand on the old Labour Department’s website. They put a paper out every year on lung disease in New Zealand. Asbestos figures in that quite largely. At the least you may end up with pleural plaques, which is basically just scarring of the lungs. You may get lung cancer, you may get asbestosis or you may get mesothelioma. Mesothelioma, once it’s diagnosed, they say if you last six months after diagnosis you’re doing quite well. Once you’ve got it it’s pretty much a death sentence.

It was traditionally thought to be only caused by blue asbestos, but in the late 1970s, early 1980s; they disproved that, that white asbestos also does it. A lot of people go through this fallacy that white asbestos isn’t bad and blue asbestos is really bad, when in actual fact they should all be treated the same and under New Zealand regulations they are.

Tony:               I guess we need to really look at how much exposure potentially is out there in the workplace and in the community. Can you tell us a little bit about where asbestos is used? What products could you be exposed to it in?

Linda:             We look at up at my ceiling and I’ve got a lovely [inaudible 00:08:25] asbestos roof. It’s in a lot of domestic homes much like it is here, as a textured finish on the roof. If you know what it is and it’s in good condition, such as this is in here, then it’s not really an issue. I’ve lived with this 20 years knowing what it is. I’ve got damage in the hallway after the storm. I’m having that removed. Once it starts to deteriorate it’s time to get it fixed. You’ll find it in textured finishes on ceilings and walls. You will find it on the floor … vinyl’s that went down between 1950 and the mid 1970s were backed with asbestos.

The glues that were made by ADOS for about 10-12 years contained asbestos in the mastic that they used. It is in butanol-type products that they use as flashing on fancy architect-designed buildings where you can’t put metal flashings. If they were the right period, that may contain asbestos. It’s in [Inaudible 0:09:26] tar-type roofing. It’s in lino tiles, but it is not in long-run linoleum, as being different from vinyl’s. It’s in concrete cement sheet products. It is in lathen plaster and some lathen plasters, mostly only in the good quality lathen plaster, it wasn’t used … we found it in government buildings more than we found it in domestic buildings in the lathen plaster.

It is in the glue around a fire door, on a fire, on a chippy. It may be the tile that the fire is sitting on. It may be the backboard behind the fire in older homes. It may be in the flue. It may be the chimney. It may be the guttering, the down pipe, the ridge pole, the [supersitch 00:10:19 roofing, the tiles on the deck.

Tony:               We’ve covered the house.

Linda:             Pretty much.

Tony:               (Laughs). What about in the workplace?

Linda:             In the workplace it’s in much the same types of places and in some offices you will get textured finishes, depending on what kind of buildings they’re in. Tiles in commercial buildings sometimes are asbestos. In fact, they’re particularly nasty, the ones that do contain asbestos. It will be in the heating system if they’re in an older building and they’ve got radiators. The radiators may be backed with asbestos. The water supply carrying the hot water to the radiators may be covered in asbestos.

Tony:               You mean the piping. All the piping?

Linda:             The piping. All the piping.

Tony:               That’d be miles probably.

Linda:             Miles and miles of it. There is less of that around now, but it is still there. Schools, hospitals and ex-government buildings are still full of it. I’ve had photos this week that show a mess under a school and it’s public buildings. The private buildings have got it in too, but it’s the big public buildings that …

Tony:               Did you say under a school?

Linda:             Under a school.

Tony:               We’re out in the community?

Linda:             It’s out in the community. It is out there. It has been damaged and taken off and not been removed and left lying under the schools. Nowadays everybody’s putting fancy cabling in for the broadband and Internet and power and upgrading everything, so they go underneath the school to put wiring in or into the roof space to put wiring in and they come across all of these asbestos-lagged pipes.

Tony:               I guess the challenge is for someone listening to this, if they’re looking around their workplace … and you mentioned the different colors of asbestos … that it may not be that easy to identify. How do people actually looking at a product go about identifying if they’ve got a potential hazard?

Linda:             If you’re working in an older building …I if you’re in a brand new building theoretically there should be no asbestos in it, so anything pre-1995, say, should not contain asbestos. I won’t say it does not because they’re still importing the stuff in building product. We’ve have had a Skyline shed built in 1992 that tested positive in the cement sheet for asbestos. Realistically that should never have occurred because asbestos was removed from cement sheets made in New Zealand in the late 1970s. We have homes from 1984, 1985 that have got textured finishes that should not contain asbestos, but they do.

Tony:               Are you saying that while there may be controls around manufacturing in New Zealand, that there are no controls to import products with asbestos in it?

Linda:             No, there’s not.

Tony:               There are none?

Linda:             You’re not allowed to import asbestos to make into a product, but if it is already incorporated into a product it’s allowed in.

Tony:               Okay.

Linda:             You can still buy gaskets that contain asbestos, so if you’re a car junkie and doing your own gasket cutting for your custom-made car, then you need to check that what you’re getting is not asbestos gasket material because you can still buy it.

Tony:               Right, so if people out there think that asbestos has been identified and controlled within New Zealand and eliminated from the supply chain and we’re dealing with a legacy, that’s not the case?

Linda:             That’s wrong. No, that’s not the case. Two years ago we had a sample from New Zealand Customs of a cement sheet product coming in from where a lot of cheap stuff comes from and they sent it to us because it was labeled as non-asbestos-containing, but it was called Asbestine. Of course it did have asbestos in it. I don’t know whether they let the shipment in. That’s not what we do, but we definitely identified it in this product that was heading to New Zealand.

Tony:               Identification, back to that. You may be at work … your school might be your work and you’ve identified a problem under the school like you’ve had …

Linda:             Something that looks suspicious, yes?

Tony:               … or your workplace or your home because everyone goes home I suppose, so let’s widen it out. How do people go about identifying if they have a problem?

Linda:             If it’s something like a textured ceiling or a cement sheet or a piece of vinyl, it’s not a big issue for the people to take the sample themselves, but if it is in a product that is really friable, really dusty or that breaks up really easy, then I would suggest that they get somebody in that knows what they’re doing to do it. Really they need a specialist contracted to do that.

Tony:               Before that step though, they need to confirm. For example, this is what I did based on your advice a month ago from that presentation.

Linda:             Your porch ceiling.

Tony:               Yeah, I took a sample.

Linda:             That’s fine for a sample, but if you come across pipe laggings that are hanging off a pipe, as soon as you see them, I would back out and shut the door. The fibre release off that kind of product in a draft is enormous.

Tony:               Got you.

Linda:             The potential for contamination from a very friable pipe lagging product is huge, so even a draft will cause problems.

Tony:               There are two things there. When you need to identify it is asbestos and how big that problem is, it sounds to me that you should be taking advice first before you did what I did, which was … I’m grateful for the advice … took a sample off my roof and it came back negative, so that was great, but I did that on advice. I made sure that that was okay to do. It sounds like that’s what people should be doing first. Getting advice.

Linda:             Taking a ceiling sample is not a big issue. The chances of you causing yourself harm taking a teaspoon from a product off the roof is pretty small. It’s the really friable as in pipe laggings and stuff like that, and going to cut things with a power saw or a power drill on cement sheet products that causes the problems because you’ve got a big release of fibre. The fibre is broken down into very small fibres.

Troy:                We’ve now identified we’ve got a problem, whether that is by someone taking a sample and coming back with a positive or getting a person in and they tell you, “Yeah, you’ve got a problem here.” Obviously if you’ve identified a problem you want to take the next step and that’s to remove it. I’ve heard some horror stories out there, but what should we be doing at this point?

Linda:             You should make sure that you are getting somebody that is a reputable asbestos contractor. That’s what he specializes in is asbestos removal work. There are a lot of people out there that are allowed to take off … it’s not restricted for cement sheet. Cement sheet is considered non-friable which I would argue, so it can be done by a builder as long as they follow the health and safety in the workplace and asbestos regulations.

As long as they do it correctly they can do it, but more often than they not they don’t clean up your mess when they’re finished. Though they remove all the cement sheet or the  roof, they don’t clean out all the Pink Batts in the roofing space that’s now completely contaminated with broken bits of asbestos, so you’ve still got residual problem. In fact, the residual problem in the ceiling void is probably a lot more than the roofing was originally.

Troy:                I can almost hear people listening to this saying, “Yeah, I get that, but our business … let say they’re not a large one … can’t afford to get someone in,” or “I’m at home at I’m just going to do it myself,” and they may get one of those bra cup mouth filters that is next to nothing …

Linda:             You need a P3. Unless you’re clean-shaven you’re wasting your time wearing one. For a man he needs to be clean-shaven.

Troy:                Because the fibres are so small …

Linda:             They will get through …

Troy:                They are smaller than their whiskers.

Linda:             More than a day’s growth and you’ve got a problem.

Troy:                I get the argument people will have out there, “We can’t afford to do this,” and what they’re actually saying is, “We’re going to sacrifice our health potentially,” so do you have any … is there anything you can pass, any stories that you may have heard, so we can shake people up to take action?

Linda:             The story I tell most is that asbestos is the only problem in the workplace or when you are renovating your home that you will share with everybody you meet if you don’t take proper precautions. You will carry it in your tread of your shoes into your car, whereas it may start off as a piece of fibre that you can see … and the potential of a piece of fibre the size of the hair, say an inch of hair, is quite literally 10 or 15 million fibres if you drop it on the floor and then walk on it. A little bit will come off today and a little bit tomorrow.

If it’s in your clothes, your wife and your children are going to share it or husband, because I shouldn’t be sexist and consider that only men do this work. It’s the one workplace hazard that people that are working … builders and plumbers and electricians, that if they start puddling in it that they’re going to take home and share.

Troy:                It sounds to me that it will be invisible, so you won’t see the problem.

Linda:             You can’t see it. I had a gentleman come in last week, was in a roof space … it’s very unusual, but they had had asbestos insulin sprayed into the roof space and he came in to bring a sample in. He says, “Everybody’s told me no, no, it’s rock wall,” he says, “But I thought I’d better get it checked.” He came in. He’s an electrician and he brought in a little bag of stuff. He says, “Oh, it’s broken up in the bag since I took it off, because it was quite … it was stuck together and quite hard.” It turned out to be 100% chrysotile. His trousers … his knees were white and his elbows were white, and he says, “Oh, just dusted myself off,” so the advice was go and dump your clothes. Wash your shoes well. You probably keep those, they’re leather, but he basically went back to work, took all his clothes off and dumped them and got changed.

Troy:                This was probably a relatively informed tradesman.

Linda:             He seemed to know what he was looking at. He was sure enough that it wasn’t rock wall to get it tested. It was last Friday.

Troy:                Good on him for following his instincts. Hopefully this will help other people take notice.

Linda:             Men are notorious for not washing their hands. If they dust off their knees and then wipe their hands on their jersey or their shirt or their coat; you’ve got trillions of fibres potentially sitting on your clothes. You go home and give your wife a hug or your child a hug and they’re going to come up to your shoulder and they’re going to get a lung full, quite literally a lung full.

Troy:                Okay, that’s scary.

Linda:             That’s firemen who’ve been through a fire where there’s asbestos in their boots and their gloves and …

Troy:                We’ve got a problem in the workplace and in the community and it’s going to be here for a long while. We need to be informed and make good decisions. If people listening to this want to find out more, someone to talk to. Perhaps take a sample and get it tested and get further advice, how do they get in contact with you and your company?

Linda:             We’ve got a website,, and that’s the English spelling of fibres, not the American, so it’s with a “bre” rather than “ber.” I am usually the one that answers the phone at work because I can answer most of the questions, but we give advice over the phone.

Troy:                Great. Thank you, Linda. I’ll put that link on my website,, so really grateful for that information. You helped me and hopefully will help other people.

Linda:             You’re welcome.

Troy:                Thank you.

Linda:             Bye.

Capital Environmental Services

Link mentioned in podcast: Capital Environmental Services website.

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