Why Did NZ Build With Asbestos In The First Place?

June 09, 2020

Many of our clients ask why it was ever used in their building in the first place. The answer involves convenience and, believe it or not, safety! 

Extensive use of asbestos as a building material started in New Zealand in the early 1900s. This was a time of great change in our country as far as technological advances were concerned. Steam, kerosene, and electricity in homes, schools and commercial spaces became commonplace. These things might have made life more comfortable but there was a price to pay, as they were definite fire hazards. Many of the fires in schools,  theatres, offices, homes, and even ships, were caused by the things that were supposed to advance our society. When their dangers were revealed, we needed a new building and insulating material that could withstand the risks posed by steam, kerosene, and electricity; asbestos was non-combustible and had low thermal conductivity and was considered the ideal solution.  

In the late 1930s, New Zealand started importing unprocessed asbestos and building products containing a mixture of the silicate mineral and cement were produced right up until the mid-1980s. There was up to 15% asbestos in this cement mixture but it wasn’t just in building products that the mineral was used. Asbestos was also found in insulating tapes and cloths, machinery insulation, seals and gaskets for the aviation and marine industries, as well as brake linings for motor vehicles. Its non-combustible qualities made it ideal for these widespread applications, and it is no surprise it was so extensively used in this country.  

In the 1970s and 1980s, the per capita use of asbestos in New Zealand exceeded that of many other industrialised nations including the USA and the UK, although it was lower than in Canada, Germany, and Australia, where several high-profile cases against asbestos manufacturers have taken place in recent years. 

Hindsight is a great thing, isn’t it? If we knew then what we know now, we would have found another building material that wasn’t as dangerous. It’s still dangerous and can be found in places you least expect. That’s why you should contact a professional company which we can arrange with one of our 3rd party licenced contractors for safe asbestos removal in Auckland, as well as the Coromandel and Waikato.