It's actually possible to stay around asbestos containing material (ACM), but still not get affected by any of its harmful effects. This is simply because asbestos only becomes harmful when its fibres are allowed to pollute the air. When you breathe in such fibres in significant amounts, and during extended periods of time, you're at risk of developing lung cancer or various other respiratory diseases.
Therefore, it's particularly critical that deliberate steps are taken to prevent air pollution during asbestos removal:
i. Prior identification of the potentially risky materials is necessary so as to avoid accidental breakage or careless contact that creates airborne fibres. Certain products within quite a number of Australian homes may have the harmful mineral. These include: steam pipes, insulations on furnace ducts, boilers, vinyl, asphalt, cement sheets, shingles, siding, gaskets, ceilings and rubber floor tiles. Identifying all the potential areas may not be possible if you're not a well-trained professional. In fact, it may be necessary to perform tests on various products in order to ascertain the presence of the harmful asbestos.
ii. Removal should also be carried out very carefully to avoid unnecessary breakage of the ACM. If there are any particularly large products that need removal, they should only be broken up if it's absolutely necessary. Even then, power tools shouldn't be used in the breakage, since the action of such tools is likely to spread asbestos fibres into the air. The risk of air dispersal means that the removal process would be a very delicate procedure that's handled only by well-trained and well-equipped professionals.
iii. The risk of contamination is also present once the removal process has been completed. There's a risk that workers involved in the operation might carry fibres on their clothes, tools, bodies or other items. This means that they might further expose their own families to the harmful mineral when they go home. Therefore, it's absolutely necessary that every person directly involved in the operation is fully equipped with personal protective equipment. Whatever type of personal protective equipment you use must be specifically suited to asbestos, which has different properties compared to other harmful substances. For instance, respiratory protection devices need to be in compliance with the Australian/New Zealand Standard 1716. There should also be a decontamination facility within the removal site, which will eliminate any residues on the tools and equipment used by workers.
iv. In case removal is yet to be carried out, the asbestos containing site should be excluded from other working or living areas. It's important that no one is allowed to access such areas within homes or in the workplace.
v. Realistically, it would be impossible to completely prevent all air pollution during the removal exercise. Hence, it's necessary that the operation is handled within a well-ventilated area. This will help reduce the concentration of fibres in the air, in case a bit of it does get airborne. Actually, an open air location would be the most ideal place, but this might not be possible in all situations. However, if you can perform removal in an open air location, don't do it during windy days.
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