What is asbestos?
According to Worksafe NZ, it is stated:
The term “asbestos” is used for a group of naturally occurring minerals that take the form of long thin fibres and fibre bundles. These minerals are non – biodegradable, have great tensile strength, conduct heat poorly and are relatively resistant to chemical weathering, such as from rainwater. Due to these characteristics, asbestos has been widely used throughout the world, articularly in building and insulation materials, including boilers and heating vessels; cement pipe; clutch, brake, and transmission components; conduits for electrical wire; pipe covering; roofing products; duct and home insulation; fire protection panels; furnace insulating pads; pipe or boiler insulation; sheet vinyl or floor tiles and underlay for sheet flooring.
Hazards presented by the different types of asbestos
All types of asbestos fibres are known to cause serious health hazards in humans,
although blue asbestos is considered to be the most harmful. There are a number of diseases that can be related to the deposit and penetration of asbestos fibres in the lungs following inhalation, including:
- Asbestosis (scarring of lung tissues)
- Mesothelioma (malignant cancers developing around the linings of either the chest or the abdominal cavities)
- Lung cancer (often associated with smoking, but sharply increasing an individual’s risk of disease)
- Pleural plaques (thickening of membranes around the lungs which may or may not lead to further disease, and leading to varying degrees of debilitation).
There has been awareness of the health hazards presented by asbestos since the 1930s and before, but the issue has grown as the full implications of exposures by significant groups in the workforce have come to be understood. It is therefore fair to say that asbestos as a workplace health hazard was not fully understood in New Zealand until the late 1970s or 1980s after significant court cases here and in Australia, and a ministerial inquiry in 1991.