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The Dangers of Asbestos

During the mid- to late 1900’s, asbestos was one of the most mined products in the world, with the production thereof being led by South Africa.  South Africa was the largest producer of asbestos by the 1970s, and had a thriving export trade of more than 10 million tons of asbestos between 1910 and 2002.

Before the dangers of asbestos became widely published, this mineral was mined extensively and used in the manufacturing of a variety of products.  Asbestos was especially popular in the manufacturing of construction related products, such as roof sheeting, gutters, pipes, insulation, and ceiling panels.

Inhaling asbestos fibres could be hazardous to one’s health and could potentially cause life threatening diseases.  Disease resulting from asbestos exposure is not always immediately apparent.  It could take many years, even decades for symptoms to develop.

There are strict guidelines that need to be followed when removing and transporting as well as disposing of asbestos.  It is therefore of utmost importance that removal of asbestos products be done by registered and professional service providers such as Asbestos Removal and Roofing.

Why is Asbestos Hazardous?

Asbestos waste comes in two forms – Friable and Non-Friable Asbestos.

Friable asbestos is the most hazardous and could pose significant dangers to human health.  It crumbles easily or can be reduced to powder by hand pressure.  Asbestos becomes hazardous when microscopic fibres become airborne and is inhaled or ingested.  The human body cannot expel these asbestos fibres, and over time it could lead to a number of serious and often fatal lung diseases such as:

  • Mesothelioma – which is cancer affecting the lining of the lungs along with the lining of the lower digestive tract.
  • Asbestos-related lung cancer – which is the same as lung cancer originating from the smoking of tobacco and related products, and other causes.
  • Asbestosis – which is a serious condition that causes irreversible scarring of the lung tissue that results from extended exposure to asbestos over many years.
  • Pleural thickening – which is a problem that stems from extended and excessive exposure to asbestos. When this condition occurs, the lining of the lung, or pleura, thickens and begins to swell. When the condition worsens, the lung itself is squeezed, and it can cause shortness of breath along with discomfort in the chest.

Non-friable asbestos cannot be crumbled by hand is less likely to release asbestos fibres.  However, when it is drilled into, broken, cleaned with abrasives or sanded – asbestos fibres are very likely to be released and become airborne.  Utmost care must be taken when working with both friable and non-friable asbestos.

Asbestos Removal Process

Testing and Sampling

Before asbestos removal can begin, it is important for testing and sampling to be done. The importance behind this step is to correctly identify the type of asbestos to be removed, as each type has its own unique removal process.

Removal Process

It is a requirement by law that all asbestos removal contractors are registered with the Department of Labour as per Regulation 21 of the Asbestos Regulations, 2001.  Asbestos Removal and Roofing is a registered contractor.  The first step in the removal process is an assessment of the site, to determine the type and the quantity of asbestos that has to be removed.

The next step is that the Approved Asbestos Inspection Authority (AAIA) visits the site and compiles a work plan.  The work plan must be submitted to and approved by the Department of Labour before work can commence.  The approval process can take up to ten working days.

Once work commences all people on the asbestos removal site are compelled to wear the appropriate prescribed protective clothing and masks (PPE), to safeguard them from inhaling or ingesting hazardous asbestos fibres.

Disposal of Asbestos

Asbestos can only be transported and disposed of by registered asbestos contractors such as Asbestos Removal and Roofing. There are strict rules for transportation of asbestos prior to disposal.  It  is important  to keep damaged asbestos-containing products adequately wetted and wrapped in heavy duty plastic, or, where fragments are small enough, it should be placed in heavy duty plastic bags and secured with cable ties. Wetting asbestos helps prevent microscopic fibres becoming airborne when transported.

Asbestos-containing waste is disposed of by  the City of Cape Town in accordance with applicable legislation at a landfill site called  Vissershok.  This is a trenched, co-disposal low-hazard (H:h) landfill operation.

When arriving at Vissershok to dispose of asbestos containing materials, the removal / disposal company has to have the correct documentation and permission before being allowed to dispose of any  hazardous asbestos material.

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