Is Your Lab Asbestos Free?

Is Your Lab Asbestos Free?

Is Your Lab Asbestos Free?

Posted on the 23rd of May 2019 by Westlab

In the mid/late 20th Century, asbestos was regarded indispensable to many modern laboratory processes. It is a highly fibrous, soft material which is resistant to heat, corrosion and electricity, and can be woven into other materials, such as fabrics and synthetics. The asbestos used in labs is called transite and surprisingly, is still found in many laboratories. Scientific industries ironically relied on this to keep them safe, before the discovery that this mineral is highly dangerous and presents the risk of mesothelioma, a cancer of the mesothelial lining of the lungs.

Asbestos was used extensively from the 1900s to the 1980s: during the 1970s after the discovery of these effects, people started passing legislation banning asbestos, even though the material was everywhere. Many workers were put at risk of harmful exposure. And in your lab, whenever a transite-lined fume hood or an asbestos-containing item is moved or damaged, there is still a risk.

Where Asbestos Can Be Found


  • Safety equipment such as gloves, mitts, boots, jackets or aprons
  • Heat mats
  • Bunsen burner mats and gauze pads
  • Insulation linings for equipment
  • Laboratory fume hoods
  • Furnaces or ovens
  • Electrical insulation

How To Identify Asbestos

Asbestos is a natural mineral fibre which appears in an off-white or light grey colour and can be found woven into cloth; insulating asbestos would appear as a fibrous material. You can be exposed to asbestos if the material is broken or moved and if the material deteriorates over time and gradually sheds fibres. The danger is that the fibres are tasteless, odourless, invisible to the naked eye, and don’t present symptoms generally until years later when you may have developed an asbestos-related disease.

What To Do

If you are working in an old or well-used lab, the first step is to look out for equipment which may contain asbestos. It may be the time for you to look into investing in a new fume hood or oven or discard old and unused equipment. If your gauze mat contains asbestos, there is a very low risk when using it normally. Small particles and sections may break off from abrasion or during storage, but this presents no real harm. Contact your suppliers to find out if any of your equipment contains asbestos or have them tested at a NATA-accredited laboratory. While confirming this, the quarantining can be as simple as placing them in a locked cabinet with clear labelling.

Under Australian standards, gauze mats containing asbestos must be disposed of as ‘asbestos waste’ in accordance with the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017. It is best to play it safe and dispose of your mats as if they do contain asbestos if you are unclear or cannot determine this factor. When buying equipment, it is also best to confirm with your supplier by requesting documentation confirming there is no asbestos in the product: even if they are labelled ‘asbestos-free’.

Stay Safe

Asbestos in the labs may be more common than you think. At its worst, it can cause life-threatening cancer when you are older, but thankfully there are plenty of accredited removalists, and it is far less common now than in the 20th century. Taking the easy steps to eliminate this hazard will make your lab workplace safe, enjoyable and modern.

2019-05-23 00:31:00
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