Asbestos: a ticking time bomb
In November 2020, property owners were given just 18 months to identify asbestos in their properties and formulate a plan for removal, but almost six months in, very few are aware of the timeline or how best to deal with the toxic substance.
Asbestos compliance and removal – what property owners need to know
In November last year, asbestos was finally outlawed and building owners were given only 18 months to plan removals from their properties, including homes, residential complexes, schools and all commercial and industrial buildings but almost six months in there is still little awareness of this ruling.
“Considering all the COVID-related challenges of the past year, it’s not surprising that this announcement flew largely under the radar,” says Chris Cilliers, CEO and co-principal of Lew Geffen Sotheby’s International Realty in the Winelands.
“And after a tough year of widespread financial loss, especially in the commercial sector, I find it difficult to imagine that very many property owners would be on top of this matter and on track to meet the deadline.
“In the rental sector many landlords will be hesitant – or even unable – to spend money when the rental market has been so badly affected by the pandemic, even more so as it would require that the house be vacated whilst the work is done.
“It would create havoc for both the tenant and landlord if there is a tenant in place and, even if it is done at the end of a lease, it will mean that the property is unoccupied for some time.”
The Asbestos Abatement Regulations 2020 which replaces the Asbestos Regulations of 2001 also states that should asbestos be identified in the workplace, the employer is required to employ a qualified person to compile an initial asbestos inventory and risk assessment as well as follow-up reports at intervals of no more than 24 months.
Caution with older properties
According to Michaal de Jager, of architectural firm Michaal de Jager Ontwerp, in light of the new regulations, it’s especially important to bear the asbestos factor in mind when buying an older property.
“Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous material that was commonly used in home and building construction for its fire retardant and thermal insulation from the1930’s to 1980 and it’s estimated that it could be present in up to a third of all unrenovated properties built during that time.
“So, when considering the purchase of a property built during those years, one will have to factor in the cost of removal, especially if you plan to renovate, because asbestos has to be removed by specialist companies and disposed of strictly in accordance with the regulations.
Asbestos was commonly used in construction from the 1930’s to 1980.
“And although the onus would fall on the seller to disclose the presence of asbestos they may have no idea that it’s present in their property because it’s almost impossible to identify simply by looking at an item or feature, which makes it very difficult to locate it in your house.
“However, if the seller is aware of it and offers full disclosure, there may well be a cost implication that will affect the purchase price of the property.”
De Jager cautions that property owners should not try to identify the substance on their own because the easiest way to determine its presence is also the most dangerous and there is an extremely high risk of the exposed asbestos fibres finding their way into the air that your family or employees breathe.
“It might be difficult to identify asbestos just by looking at it, so you need to send samples to a lab for testing and the mere act of taking samples could well release fibres.”
De Jager adds that DIY enthusiasts should also take extra care when renovating older homes.
“In the era of do-it-yourself home renovations, many homeowners are knocking down ceilings and walls, and tearing out floor tiles and old pipes but in their efforts to upgrade and their older homes, they might unknowingly be contaminating the very air they breathe.”
He adds that asbestos can only be safely positively identified by a person trained in fiber identification with a special polarized light microscope.
Removal of asbestos has to be done by specialist companies.
Common building products that might contain asbestos include:
- Steam pipes, geysers and furnace ducts – these materials may release asbestos fibers if damaged, repaired, or removed improperly;
- The backing on vinyl sheet flooring and adhesives used for installing floor tiles – sanding tiles can release fibers as well as scraping or sanding the backing of sheet flooring during removal;
- Cement sheet and millboard used as insulation around furnaces and woodburning stoves – repairing or removing appliances may release asbestos fibers;
- Door gaskets in furnaces, wood stoves, and coal stoves – worn seals can release asbestos fibers during use;
- Patching and joint compounds for walls and ceilings – fibres can be released by sanding, scraping and drilling;
- Textured paints – sanding, scraping, or drilling these surfaces may release asbestos;
- Asbestos cement roofing, shingles, and siding – these products will only release asbestos fibers unless sawed, dilled, or cut;
- Artificial embers sold in gas-fired fireplaces;
- Other older household products which might contain asbestos are fireproof gloves, stove-top pads and ironing board covers.