Definitions – Hazardous Building Materials

The hazardous building materials most typically under consideration in Australia are:

  • Asbestos
  • Synthetic mineral fibres (SMF)
  • Lead-based paint systems
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB)

Depending on the application, hazardous building materials can also include other materials such as: ozone depleting substances (CFCs), mould and fungi, ionising radiation sources, anti-fouling systems, pesticides and herbicides.
The following provides some generic information on the four most common hazardous building materials investigated in Australia.


Asbestos is a vague generic term of no specific geological significance except that it describes the group of naturally occurring fibrous silicate minerals that are characterised by having crystallised in nature as long thin separable fibres. The three (3) asbestos types from the group of asbestos minerals that have been mined in any commercial significance include:

  • Chrysotile (White Asbestos)
  • Amosite (Brown Asbestos)
  • Crocidolite (Blue Asbestos)

No industry more so than the construction industry has used asbestos and asbestos products so extensively, to satisfy its fire protection, thermal and acoustic insulation and condensation control requirements, or as fillers/binders in other products. Thousands of products have been produced that incorporate asbestos, many of which may be encountered in everyday life.
The very properties of the asbestos minerals that make them industrially useful, contribute to their potential to cause disease. The health effects from exposure to asbestos result from the inhalation of asbestos fibres in the respirable size range.
The diseases resulting from exposure to asbestos can be categorised as follows:

  • Asbestos related pleural disease » Benign (not cancerous) – Pleural Plaques » Malignant (cancerous) – Mesothelioma
  • Lung Disease » Benign – Asbestosis » Malignant – Bronchogenic Carcinoma (lung cancer)

The following is a description of the principal asbestos related diseases:

  • Asbestosis: a diffuse interstitial fibrosis of the lungs caused by exposure to all forms of asbestos.
  • Lung Cancer: a cancer of the lung airways which is similar to that caused by cigarette smoking and is caused by all forms of asbestos. The combination of asbestos exposure and smoking greatly increases the risk of lung cancer.
  • Mesothelioma: a rare cancer of the pleura or peritoneum. The development of the disease may be associated with relatively short periods of high exposure, but there is usually a long lapse between initial exposure and onset of disease; death is then quick and inevitable. Crocidolite is very potent in inducing mesothelioma and amosite to a lesser extent. The situation is less clear for chrysotile, but it is considerably less potent than crocidolite or amosite.

Synthetic Mineral Fibres

Synthetic Mineral Fibre (SMF) is a generic term used to collectively describe a number of amorphous (non-crystalline) man-made vitreous fibres. SMFs include the following types of fibre:

  • Glass fibre: Reinforcing filament Glass wool Superfine glass fibre
  • Mineral Wool: Rockwool Slagwool
  • Refractory Ceramic Fibre (RCF)

Glass fibre and mineral wool products have been used for many decades, with significant commercial production dating from the beginning of the 20th Century. The principal applications for SMF products have been in thermal and acoustic insulation and as reinforcing material in composite products. The commercial production of refractory ceramic fibres dates from the 1950′s. In some specialised applications, these materials and refractory ceramic fibre products have been used as a replacement for asbestos-containing materials, especially where high temperature insulation properties are required.

Lead-based Paint Systems

Australian Standard, AS 4361.2-1998 “Guide to Lead Paint Management, Part 2: Residential and Commercial Buildings” defines lead paint as a paint film or component coat of a paint system in which the lead content (calculated as lead metal) is in excess of 1.0% by weight of the dry film as determined by laboratory testing.
The “Standard for the Uniform Scheduling of Drugs & Poisons” defines a Third Schedule Paint as containing greater than 0.1% lead by dry weight (as from 1 December 1997). It is generally accepted by industry that paints with greater than 0.25% lead require some precautions when working on them.

Polychlorinated Biphenyls

PCB is an abbreviation for polychlorinated biphenyls, a group of synthetic, chlorinated organic compounds. PCBs are a group of substances where the biphenyl structure has various numbers of hydrogen atoms substituted with chlorine atoms and has the empirical formula C12H10-nCln where n = 1 – 10. PCBs are oily, viscous liquids and chemically very stable. They are toxic chemicals responsible for environmental pollution and are suspected human carcinogens. Prolonged exposure may result in an unusual form of dermatitis called chloracne. Adverse health effects may occur in people who have excessive exposure to PCBs over prolonged periods. PCB materials may be encountered in electrical equipment imported or manufactured before 1975.
The Australian and New Zealand Environment Conservation Council “Polychlorinated Biphenyls Management Plan, Revised Edition: April 2003″ outlines the National Strategy for the management of PCBs. In summary, this document defines PCB materials and wastes as follows:<2 data-preserve-html-node="true" mg/kg – PCB free. 2 mg/kg – <50 data-preserve-html-node="true" mg/kg – Non-Scheduled PCB material or waste. >50 mg/kg & >50 g – Scheduled PCB material or waste. >100,000 mg/kg (10%) – Concentrated PCB material

Reference Documents

  1. Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC), “Polychlorinated Biphenyls Management Plan, Revised Edition April 2003“.
  2. Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC), “Identification of PCB-Containing Capacitors, An information booklet for electricians and electrical contractors, ANZECC 1997“.
  3. National Environmental Health Forum “Paint Film Components, National Environmental Health Monographs, General Series No. 2, 1998“.
  4. Safe Work Australia, “How to Manage and Control Asbestos in the Workplace – Code of Practice, 2011“.
  5. Safe Work Australia, “How to Safely Remove Asbestos – Code of Practice, 2011″.
  6. Safe Work Australia, “Control of Inorganic Lead at Work, October 1994“: – “National Standard for the Control of Inorganic Lead at Work [NOHSC: 1012(1994)]“; and – “National Code of Practice for the Safe Use of Inorganic Lead at Work [NOHSC: 2015(1994)]“.
  7. Safe Work Australia, “Documentation of the Exposure Standards [NOHSC: 10003(1997)]“.
  8. Safe Work Australia, “Exposure Standards for Atmospheric Contaminants in the Occupational Environment, May 1995“: – “Guidance Note on the Interpretation of Exposure Standards for Atmospheric Contaminants in the Occupational Environment [NOHSC: 3008(1995)]“; and – “Adopted National Exposure Standards for Atmospheric Contaminants in the Occupational Environment [NOHSC: 1003(1995)]“.
  9. Safe Work Australia, “Guidance Note on the Membrane Filter Method for Estimating Airborne Asbestos Fibres, 2nd Edition, [NOHSC: 3003(2005)]“.
  10. Safe Work Australia, “Guidance Note on the Membrane Filter Method for the Estimation of Airborne Synthetic Mineral Fibres [NOHSC: 1004(1990)]“.
  11. Safe Work Australia, “Guidelines for Health Surveillance” [NOHSC: 7039 (1995)].
  12. Safe Work Australia, “National Model Regulations for the Control of Workplace Hazardous Substances, Part 2 – Scheduled Carcinogenic Substances [NOHSC: 1011(1995)]“.
  13. Safe Work Australia, “Synthetic Mineral Fibres, May 1990“: – “National Standard for Synthetic Mineral Fibres [NOHSC: 1004(1990)]“; and – “National Code of Practice for the Safe Use of Synthetic Mineral Fibres [NOHSC: 2006(1990)]“.
  14. Safe Work Australia, “Technical Report on Synthetic Mineral Fibres [NOHSC: 1001(1989)]“.
  15. NSW Environment Protection Authority, “Interdepartmental Lead Task Force, New South Wales Lead Management Action Plan“.
  16. SAI Global, Australian Standard, AS 4360-2004 “Risk Management“.
  17. SAI Global, Australian Standard, AS 4361.1-1995 “Guide to lead paint management, Part 1: Industrial applications“.
  18. SAI Global, Australian Standard, AS 4361.2-1999 “Guide to lead paint management, Part 2: Residential and commercial buildings“.
  19. SAI Global, Australian Standard, AS 4964-2004 “Method for the qualitative identification of asbestos in bulk samples“.
  20. SAI Global, Australian Standard – Handbook, HB 436-2004 “Risk Management Guidelines“.

For further information regarding hazardous materials management contact:
Philip Hibbs on 0418 356 784
Michael Fisher on 0418 647 262