If there has been one redeeming factor about asbestos in Australia, it’s publicity generated by high profile court compensation claims during 80′s, 90′s & into 2000′s which I believe has resulted in a public awareness campaign that no State Government health department awareness program could ever hope to replicate. Not only has this created a huge general awareness of the dangers associated with asbestos for the general public, it has rocked corporate Australia with large compensation payouts and often with negative publicity for corporate social responsibility. Large corporate losses like this finally sent a big wakeup call to any company dealing with asbestos, and finally after years of denial, governments and businesses have taken the dangers of asbestos seriously.
A similar situation occurred in some overseas countries…
Significant cases that come to mind were:
- Johns Manville, a large manufacturer of asbestos products was driven to near bankruptcy in the early 1980′s due to the number asbestos related claims.
- W.R Grace exposed the entire town of Libby, Montana to asbestos with its vermiculite mining operations. The vermiculite was found to be contaminated with asbestos and was unfortunately also used in a vermiculite based insulation sold under the name of Zonolite. The company continued to mine and produce the product up to 1990 despite knowing the vermiculite it mined was contaminated and the subsequent health effects of asbestos. The United States government estimate 35 millions homes contain vermiculite…many of which used the asbestos contaminated variety. As a result of adverse health effects, W.R. Grace was subject to 270,000 lawsuits for damages. W.R Grace was driven to near bankruptcy in 2001.
- Eternit, a large European asbestos manufacturing company, the Italian division went bankrupt in 1986, was in the news recently (Feb 2012), when an Italian court in Turin found former owners, Swiss billionaire, Stephan Schmidheiny and a Belgian baron, Louis de Cartier de Marchienne guilty of failing to provide a safe work environment for workers, and exposing nearby residents to asbestos dust.
More about Eternit here: Eternit and the Great Asbestos Trial
Worldwide and just like in Australia, asbestos cement was a big part of the building industry, especially in the post war years where it was heavily promoted as a cheaper and faster alternative to traditional methods of building construction. In some parts of the world, asbestos is still a key component of fibre cement products, notably, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and China are still importing raw Chrysotile (white asbestos) for manufacture of asbestos cement products…which is surprising since the technology for producing asbestos free fibre cement is available and the risks of being exposed to asbestos fibres is well documented.
With that in mind, I present readers with some interesting photos of asbestos from overseas….
Eastern Europe: Bosnia & Herzegovina
An abandoned house with asbestos roof in Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina. Photo by Jason Kovacevic.
What’s concerning about the above house, is it looks to be in state of disrepair and may be subject to renovation or demolition. There is quite a coverage of asbestos cement sheeting on the roof and when the time comes for repairs or demolition, one wonders if the demolition crew will take the appropriate safety precautions for asbestos disposal to prevent the workers and neighbours being exposed to asbestos fibres. Secondly, the demolition crew should be aware of the risk of ‘fall through’, as corrugated asbestos cement roof sheets like this become brittle as they age. Also inside the house there could be more asbestos, such flat sheeting on the ceiling or walls and dangerous friable asbestos lagging over hot water pipes.
Broken asbestos sheeting left in vacant lot. Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina. Photo by Jason Kovacevic.
Indiscriminate or illegal dumping looks to be a problem in Bosnia & Herzegovina also. Breaking up sheets like this can release dangerous asbestos fibres into the surroundings which can be inhaled.
Asbestos roof of a restaurant in the small town of Celebici. Photo by Jason Kovacevic.
The same roof close up. The roof is made of corrugated asbestos cement. Photo by Jason Kovacevic.
The above roof looks well weathered and in a poor state of repair…the leaves and moss don’t help the appearance either. The corrugated asbestos sheets look to be quite short and I can’t see how it’s fixed on, presumably screws or nails are covered by the overlapping sheet. The ridge capping also looks to be made from moulded asbestos. Though left as it is, I’d say the occasional asbestos fibre would be released into the surroundings, however the biggest potential danger will come if the roof is demolished without proper precautions. Any smashing up of the sheeting and throwing into a truck or dump bin will release huge amounts of asbestos fibres, exposing the workers and nearby residents. In addition, the fragile state of the roof makes it a danger to walk on with risk of falling through.
Again in Mostar…Though the house has a clay or concrete tiled roof, there is a spare sheet of corrugated asbestos leaning against the gutter to act as a makeshift awning. Photo by Jason Kovacevic.
In the above picture we can see how a piece of asbestos sheeting is being recycled. Though recycling is good idea, but not for asbestos cement sheeting. The problem with reusing old sheets like this is each time the sheet is moved or transported, there is potential for release of asbestos fibres and exposing the person handling the sheet. For example, when the sheet is being transported in the back of trailer or ute there will be some scraping due to loading & unloading, which will release asbestos. Also, the new owner may be tempted the drill and cut the sheet to size, thus again releasing even more asbestos fibres.
A factory in Taiwan constructed from corrugated asbestos cement sheeting. Photo by Stephanie Low.
A quick search on the internet reveals that Taiwan looks still to manufacturing products made from asbestos eg. brake pads & asbestos cement. However, a plan for phasing out asbestos will begin in 2015, and by 2020 manufacturing of all construction materials made from asbestos will cease.
Well.. that’s the plan.
In the mean time, there is growing legacy of asbestos products. Let’s hope the Taiwanese know how to safely demolish and dispose of buildings made from asbestos cement without causing damage to workers lungs and nearby residents. Not to mention the extremely hazardous forms of friable asbestos such asbestos insulation lagging found in oil refineries, power stations and ships.
Old factory in Taipei cladded in corrugated asbestos cement sheeting. Photo by Stephanie Low.
Taiwan factory constructed from asbestos cement sheeting. Photo by Stephanie Low.
Factory walls constructed from asbestos cement sheeting. Photo by Stephanie Low.
Exhaust fan hoods. Asbestos sheeting is simply broken to make clearance. Photo by Stephanie Low.
Close-up of the wall. Asbestos sheeting is broken where steel frame pokes out. Photo by Stephanie Low.
Side view of factory with asbestos cement walls with modern Taipei in the background. Photo by Stephanie Low.
Further along shows more of the factory. Walls have been replaced by sheet metal but it still has asbestos roof. Photo by Stephanie Low.
Carport with asbestos roof. SS2, Petaling Jaya (KL). Shallower corrugations on this sheet, looks to be locally made product known as Humedex.
Asbestos roofs are quite common in Malaysia, particularly in older and established areas. It seemed to be one of the building materials of choice in the 1960′s 70′s & 80′s for especially for cheaper, economical constructions and extensions. Entire factories were built from corrugated asbestos cement sheets and many are still in use…(Australia also had plenty of industrial buildings built the same way).
There seems to be two types of corrugated asbestos sheets often seen in Malaysia:
- Humedex: Has the shallower corrugations.
- HumeSix: Has deeper corrugations, similar to Hardies SuperSix.
Thankfully, concrete tiles and sheet metal roofs are now nearly always used on new constructions in Malaysia.
Market building with asbestos roof. Penang. Note the deeper corrugations, probably HumeSix.
Penang. House with asbestos roof. Looks like HumeSix.
Petaling Jaya. This building is a school. SMK Taman SEA has an asbestos roof.
Close up of the roof of the same school, SMK Taman SEA. Petaling Jaya. Sheeting appears to be Humedex.
Small roof over a Telekom Malaysia junction box in Alor Star, made from corrugated asbestos cement.
Ipoh: Many older factories in Malaysia similar to this typically have asbestos roofs
Striated asbestos sheeting used in the ceiling of house. Kelana Jaya (KL)
Demolition & Illegal Dumping:
Petaling Jaya: Illegal dumping of builders rubble including asbestos sheeting.
I’ve noticed a fair bit of illegal dumping in Malaysia. What’s concerning is the amount of asbestos being dumped along with builders rubble. It often happens on vacant land, or anywhere on the outskirts of town. As you’d expect, this is simply to avoid paying fees at the proper landfill sites.
Demolition: Asbestos sheeting broken into smaller pieces, Petaling Jaya (KL)
Unfortunately, many builders who are involved in demolition of older structures tend to smash up asbestos cement sheeting, as it’s easier to handle this way. This very dangerous method releases LOTS of asbestos fibres into the surroundings. Incidentally, many foreign workers are employed in the building industry who are often desperate for a job and will do anything, and usually for quite low wages. Quite often the bosses are either ignorant or don’t care about worker safety.
Demolition aftermath: Broken up asbestos sheeting ready to be picked up, Petaling Jaya.
Broken up asbestos roof sheeting from demolition of a shop house. Taiping, Perak
Asbestos pipe dumped on spare lot. SS2, Petaling Jaya (KL)
Manufacture & For Sale:
Humedex asbestos roof sheeting for sale in Penang.
In my investigations I came across a hardware store in Penang displaying *new* Humedex sheets for sale displayed outside the warehouse. Though Humedex’s popularity has dwindled over the years, there is still a market for replacement sheets for older buildings.
I was fortunate to find and photograph a plastic information wrapper on this batch of Humedex. These sheets were recently manufactured, 14 October 2011 and come in red and grey colours.
Humedex plastic wrapping showing the manufacturer as Hume Cemboard Berhad.
I was surprised to see these sheets did not contain any asbestos warning labels. Nothing at all. I could not find a specification sheet from the manufacturer and very little information is available on the internet about these sheets, which is surprising considering how widespread their use is. I also notice resellers of Humedex always to refer to asbestos based products as ‘fibre cement’ and very little is mentioned about the real composition… and if it is mentioned, then it’s abbreviated to ‘AC’…the abbreviations stands for Asbestos Cement, of course.
Humedex plastic wrapping showing do and do not’s with a fixing and installation guide, but no asbestos warning?
Malex factory with some of their products.
This is the Malex fibre cement factory located in Section 51 Petaling Jaya (KL). It looks as if they are producing cellulose based fibre cement sheeting, but I spotted these pallets of ridge capping, curved roof components and corrugated sheeting and wondering if they are also making asbestos based products as well. Some further investigation is required.
I hope this article gives readers an insight into asbestos of three other countries, which like Australia, have a legacy of asbestos. But it makes me wonder about the awareness, or more precisely, the lack of, for people in these countries…do they know the dangers of asbestos?… let alone how to identify it and deal with it safely. Bear in mind, the economics of asbestos removal for some people in these countries can be a big factor and when it comes to renovation or demolition of structures containing asbestos, then it’s tempting to do it the cheapest way possible. As for laws regarding asbestos, yes there there are laws and standards, it’s easy for governments pass laws. But quite often the laws are not enforced or the the laws are not applicable in certain circumstances such as domestic or DIY renovations.