Residing in areas of naturally occurring asbestos factsheet

Guidance for reducing potential exposure for residents living in areas of naturally occurring asbestos

Some key facts

  • Asbestos occurs in some rocks and soils as a natural mineral.
  • Some 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.

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. Various regions in NSW have been classified as having low, medium, or high probability of NOA being present.

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 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 I do to reduce exposure in and around the home?

Inside the home:

  • use a wet cloth, a wet mop or steam-clean surfaces where possible
  • use removable rugs that are washable, wash them regularly, and avoid beating or shaking them
  • avoid tracking soil and dust indoors by using entryway doormats and removing shoes and dusty clothes (where practical) before coming inside, wash mats with water, rather than shaking to clean
  • wash dusty items as soon as practical, avoid shaking dusty clothes and other items for washing as this would suspend dust in the air
  • consider limiting pets’ access to indoor areas and wash them frequently to remove dust
  • close windows on very windy days or if road maintenance or construction work by neighbours is occurring nearby.

In gardens and yards:

  • do not use leaf blowers when undertaking general cleaning outside the building
  • using water to clean can reduce dust generation, however, use of pressure cleaners (gurneys) or water blasting is not recommended
  • ensure your yard has well-maintained ground cover where practicable
  • seal or pave pathways such as driveways to minimise dust generation
  • when building garden beds, vegetable patches, children’s sand pits or other children’s play areas use asbestos-free soil, woodchips, mulch, sand and gravel
  • wet garden areas before digging or shovelling soil
  • if major earth works are to be undertaken on your property involving the movement of rocks or soil, consider whether these activities can be undertaken away from houses. Before you start, seek advice from council about any consent or approval that might be required. You should prepare an asbestos management plan outlining how the activities will be undertaken to minimise the generation of dust (for more information go to www.workcover.nsw.gov.au/media/publications/health-and-safety/naturally-occurring-asbestos-fact-sheet).

Footnotes

[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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