Exploring the South African legacy of asbestos using routinely collected data

Exploring the South African legacy of asbestos using routinely collected data

Authors: T Vorster, N Kgokong, JI Phillips

Source: Occupational Health Southern Africa. Vol 24 No. 5 September/October 2018

Summary:

Background: Despite the banning of asbestos in South Africa in 2008, potential exposure to asbestos remains a national problem. Identifying asbestos in structures and monitoring the air are crucial activities when demolition/renovation work is being conducted. The National Institute for Occupational Health (NIOH) provides a service to analyse bulk samples and air filters for the presence of asbestos fibres. Details of the samples and the findings of the analysis are entered into a database. These data have been routinely collected since 2003.

Methods: Both bulk and air filter samples were analysed by scanning electron microscopy and energy dispersive spectroscopy (SEM/EDS), using a Jeol JSM 5600 SEM. Fibres on the air filters were counted, using the recommended technical method No. 2 (RTM2).

Results: From 2003 to 2017, a total of 2 990 samples were analysed. Bulk samples comprised 52.9% (n = 1 581) of all samples analysed; the remainder were air filter samples. More than half (n = 867, 54.8%) of the bulk samples contained asbestos, while only 16.1% (n = 227) of air filters had asbestos fibres on them. Most samples were received from Gauteng, Mpumalanga and the Western Cape provinces, with the electricity, steam, gas and air conditioning sector being the one from which most samples were
received. The types of bulk samples analysed included floor tiles, cement roofs and soil samples; cement materials were the most common.

Conclusion: Analysis of routinely collected data reflects the asbestos legacy and asbestos work being carried out in South Africa. This information is critical in planning strategies to manage asbestos and exposure in the future.