Farming in areas of naturally occurring asbestos factsheet

Guidance for small farmers and graziers, and others engaged in agricultural and rural pursuits such as horticulture and viticulture, timber growing and harvesting.

Some key facts:

  • Asbestos occurs in some rocks and soils as a natural mineral.
  • Some farming activities can generate dust.
  • Asbestos fibres that are breathed in pose a risk to health.
  • The risk of developing an asbestos-related disease depends on how many fibres have been breathed in and for how long, fibre type, whether you smoke and age at first exposure.
  • There are practical steps you can undertake to reduce your exposure to naturally occurring asbestos.
  • Depending on the probability of naturally occurring asbestos being present, NSW has been mapped into low, medium, or high potential regions.

What is naturally occurring asbestos (NOA)?

Naturally occurring asbestos (NOA) is asbestos minerals found naturally in association with geological deposits including rock, sediment, or soil. Asbestos minerals are commonly found around the world in ultramafic rock formations including serpentinite (chrysotile [white]) and amphibole (actinolite, amosite [brown], anthophyllite, crocidolite [blue] and tremolite) as well as in the soils where these rock types are located.

Less than 1% of NSW has rock types with the potential to contain significant amounts of NOA. Depending on the probability of naturally occurring asbestos being present, NSW has been mapped into low, medium, or high potential regions. The map is only indicative and based on knowledge at the time of writing. Only testing will confirm if NOA is present onsite.

Asbestos and health

Asbestos is not a risk if it is undisturbed as only asbestos fibres that are breathed in pose a risk to health. People living in a NOA area will have a slight risk of asbestos related disease and this risk may be greater than for people not living in a NOA area. The risk of developing an asbestos-related disease varies from person to person and depends on how many fibres have been breathed in and for how long, fibre type, whether you smoke and age at first exposure.

We are all exposed to very low levels of asbestos in the air we breathe. There are usually between 10 and 200 asbestos fibres in every 1000 litres of air. This means we breathe in up to 3000 asbestos fibres a day [1]. Despite this very few people experience ill effects from such asbestos exposure.

People can be exposed to higher levels of asbestos at some times in their lives; for example in their workplace, community or home. Evidence of non-occupational exposure increasing the risk of asbestos-related disease is very limited. A small increase in risk cannot be excluded, but a large increase in risk is unlikely.

Most people who develop asbestos-related diseases in Australia have had exposure to much higher levels of asbestos fibres through working directly with asbestos or asbestos products. Family members of these workers have also been known to develop asbestos-related diseases because the workers carried asbestos fibres home on their clothing, skin and hair.

While there is only a low chance of developing an asbestos-related disease from non-occupational exposure to asbestos, it remains very important to take precautions to minimise exposure.

There are a number of practical measures you can undertake (where feasible) as described in this factsheet to reduce your risk of exposure.

One of the most important things you can do to reduce your risk is quit smoking.

What can be done to reduce exposure to NOA in farming areas?

If you live and/or farm in an area where soil is known to contain NOA there are prudent measures that you can take to reduce the generation of dust and reduce the likelihood of breathing in dust. Reducing the potential risk may be achieved by undertaking practical steps.

Before beginning any work on your property, consider the conditions.

Be aware if any NOA is present on your property area (see these maps), but consult an expert for a confirmatory test for NOA if necessary:

  • take into account the location of NOA in the planning and development of your property
  • delay dust-generating activities on windy days in dry conditions and use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) when necessary
  • consider areas downwind of activities, especially if they may generate excessive amounts of dust.

When planning or developing your property, it is recommended that you:

  • site new buildings away from areas containing NOA and up-wind of prevailing wind currents or major dust-generating activities
  • ·       cover areas containing NOA around the home by landscaping with vegetation, such as a groundcover of NOA tolerant plants, and/or add a layer of NOA-free organic mulch, woodchips, soil or gravel
  • when driving or riding (including vehicles, motorcycles, quad bikes, horses etc) over exposed NOA areas, reduce speed to minimise dust generation and keep vehicle windows closed and recirculate air.

When disturbing soils during planting, seeding, digging:

  • wet areas before activity to minimise dust generation
  • cover asbestos-containing rock or soil in yards and gardens with asbestos-free soil if practicable.

When using heavy machinery that generates dust:

  • use high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters in cabins or appropriate PPE such as P2 masks.

When moving livestock or working in cattle yards:

  • avoid doing so on dusty/windy days if possible.
  • minimise dust exposure by staying up-wind or use PPE if necessary.

When undertaking major earth works:

  • consult with local authorities, where necessary
  • consider developing and putting an NOA management plan in place to minimise exposure when working in soils known to contain NOA

Advice for controlling dust in and around buildings is provided in the residing in areas of naturally occurring asbestos factsheet.


[1] enHealth (2012) Asbestos – A guide for householders and the general public

Further Information

In NSW, the government agencies with particular responsibilities for asbestos safety have collaborated to compile information and guidance.

Other useful links:

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