Widespread use of asbestos commenced in New Zealand in the 1930s when it was imported into the country to manufacture products comprised of asbestos mixed with cement, only ceasing production by the mid-1980s.
New Zealand’s first asbestos regulations came into effect until 1978. It became illegal to import blue (woolly stone) and brown (featuring harsh, spiky fibres) asbestos into the country from 1984 and all asbestos contained products became illegal imports in 2016.
Buildings constructed, altered or refurbished from the 1940s to the mid-1980s are likely to feature asbestos-containing materials. Other common uses for asbestos included insulating boards, friction linings, fire doors, gas and electric heaters, fuse boxes, gaskets, pipe lagging, sprayed insulation and brake linings.
Over the years, much asbestos-containing materials from these sources have ended up in the ground due to improper remediation and treatment services at the time.
Treatment of contaminated soil today becomes particularly hazardous when the quantities of asbestos or asbestos-containing materials can lead to airborne contamination above trace level. Only suitably qualified and experienced practitioners are permitted to treat contaminated soils.
Asbestos-related diseases take around 20 years before symptoms begin to show. Of the 800 people who die each year of work-related diseases in New Zealand, almost a quarter of these are caused by asbestos-related diseases. Many of these people have been exposed to asbestos-contaminated soils.