Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral made up of many small fibres. These fibres are carcinogenic, which means they can cause cancer.

The risk to health increases with the number of fibres you breathe in and how often you are exposed to these fibres.

Conditions caused by inhaling asbestos fibres can include:

  • asbestosis (inflammation and scarring of the lung)
  • lung cancer
  • mesothelioma (a type of cancer that develops in the linings of your internal organs)

Asbestos fibres are released into the air when something disturbs them in soil, rock, or when building materials containing asbestos are disturbed because of building construction or demolition. Individual fibres can remain in the air for a long time because they are small and light. Asbestos fibres are very strong and are highly resistant to heat, fire, chemicals, and wearing down.

Asbestos was mainly imported and used before the 1980s. Once the health risks of asbestos were known, its use was gradually stopped, and other materials replaced it. However, products and appliances with asbestos content may still be around, particularly in homes built before 2000.

What should I do?

Asbestos containing material is not a risk to your health, providing it is in sound condition and is not disturbed.

If you own your own property and wish to remove any suspected asbestos containing material, it is recommended that you have the material tested first.

If you want to remove or seal asbestos, it’s best to have this done by a professional qualified asbestos removal contractor. WorkSafe New Zealand has a list of certified contractors who can safely remove or seal asbestos.

The role of public health

Health protection officers at National Public Health Service - Wellington Region can give you advice on how to safely get a sample tested. They can also discuss with you how to correctly gather a sample.

You can find some information on asbestos in the resources below.

Last updated 28 May 2024.