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Asbestos Fires

Asbestos fires do not completely destroy asbestos-containing materials (ACM), but can cause significant extensive damage to structural integrity of asbestos containing building materials, which would in turn lead to release of airborne asbestos.

When exposed to fire and high temperatures, ACM products may suddenly crack and break, causing the product to degrade as a result of loss of moisture from the high temperature.  In these circumstances, the ACM products may ‘explode’ or spall into smaller pieces causing the release of asbestos fibres.  The most significant effect of spalling is the distribution of debris, often many metres from the original material and potentially beyond the boundary of the property or site.

Asbestos fibres released from broken or disintegrated AC sheeting may be present in the dust and ash of fire-damaged buildings.  Soot and debris from the fire has the potential to be asbestos contaminated due to the burning of the AC sheet materials.

The risk to persons working at or visiting the Site is dependent upon the presence of airborne asbestos (respirable fibre) and the potential to inhale the fibre.  Asbestos dust and fibres have the potential to present a health risk during and after a fire if not properly managed.  Asbestos fibres may be present in the dust and ash and may pose a risk to those disturbing the dust and ash if inhaled.  Settled asbestos fibre may become airborne as the fire affected building materials and debris dries after the initial firefighting response.

Management of the contamination and risks associated with asbestos fires changes as the site progresses from an emergency response to a clean-up and recovery situation.

  • Fire Event
  • Initial Management Measures (make safe)
  • Detailed Assessment
  • Remediation and Validation
  • Reporting (clearance)

The fire event and initial management measures are undertaken by first responders. Subsequently, a more thorough and formal contamination risk assessment and management process commences, involving key regulators and asbestos professionals (e.g. Hazmat) funded by the owner, insurer and/or sometimes by the Government (i.e. major events such as bushfires).

Fire asbestos contamination usually consists of:

  • the building skeleton and footprint;
  • close surrounding area of coarse fragment scatter;
  • surface deposits of fine material from smoke plume deposition; and
  • airborne free fibre and small fibre bundles.

Sometimes there may also be asbestos contamination as a result of firefighting water run-off.

The building skeleton and footprint contamination is usually readily managed because it is localised, however it may not be possible to separate the asbestos materials from other building debris. The dispersed coarse fragments and fine material often require more specialised management because they have spread into other areas and may have contaminated soils and a surrounding built environment.

Hazmat’s Licensed Asbestos Assessors undertake an asbestos assessment involving a visual inspection, risk assessment and sample analysis.  An asbestos remediation plan can then be prepared for the removal of asbestos contamination from the site.

An appropriately licensed (Class A) asbestos removal contractor is engaged to remove asbestos fire debris and dispose of in a safe and controlled manor.

Hazmat’s Licensed Asbestos Assessors can undertake independent air monitoring (NATA Accredited) during the remediation works and provide a Clearance Report to validate the asbestos removal works.

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