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Health hazards of using Asbestos and countermeasures

Asbestos and asbestos products classified as Dangerous Goods (and subject to the IMDG Code) include raw asbestos, treated asbestos still in the form of free fibres and any product from which fibres might escape.

The use of asbestos and/or certain asbestos products is banned in many parts of the world. The United Kingdom, for example, banned the importation, supply and use of all forms of asbestos or asbestos containing materials in November 2006 and other countries have similar regulations although it is apparent that such regulations are not necessarily being enforced.

Asbestos are IMDG Class 9, U.N.2212 (blue and brown asbestos) or 2590 (white asbestos). There are three main types:
  1. Blue asbestos (crocidolite), straight, flexible fibres, lavender grey to bluish green in colour.
  2. Brown asbestos (amosite, mysorite), straight, brittle fibres, light grey to pale brown in colour.
  3. White asbestos (chrysotile, actinolite, anthophyllite, tremolite), fine, silky, flexible fibres, white to grey/green in colour.

Blue asbestos is acknowledged as being the most dangerous while white asbestos is the commonest type. However, exposure to any asbestos dust by inhalation is extremely dangerous and must be avoided completely. Asbestos must not be handled without suitable respiratory apparatus and protective clothing. Asbestos must be stowed clear of living quarters and away from all foodstuffs.

All types of asbestos should be packed in impermeable bags and unitised loads should be further securely enclosed in a cover of impermeable material. Hooks and other sharp equipment must not be used. Damaged bags must be over-slipped immediately with similar impermeable bags and securely sealed. Spilt material must be collected and handled in accordance with local regulations and always with suitable respiratory apparatus and protective clothing.

Before stuffing a container with asbestos all projections inside the container must be removed or adequately shielded to avoid damage to the bags while in transit. Containers and cargo spaces that have contained asbestos must be thoroughly cleaned following discharge and should be considered as contaminated (and thus requiring the use of respiratory equipment and protective clothing) until the cleaning has been completed.

Asbestos cement : IMDG Class 9. Cement mixed with 1015% asbestos fibres and generally banned now but may still be found in some parts of the world. Treat as Asbestos, which see.

Asbestos pipes/tiles/sheet : Manufactured from asbestos cement and generally banned now but may still be found in some parts of the world. Very brittle and susceptible to damage. Not normally considered as Dangerous Goods.

Hazards of Asbestos and countermeasures

Asbestos dust can cause lung disease or lung cancer. At some instance carrying out repairs may liable to create asbestos dust, below precaution to be taken into consideration :
  1. where possible, any work involved which might generate asbestos dust in the atmosphere should be left until the ship is in port and proper facilities and equipment can be utilised.
  2. If it is essential for such work to be carried out, every precaution should be taken to generate as little asbestos dust as possible.
  3. Access to areas where work is taking place should be limited to the personnel involved
  4. where practical, working area should be closed off, ie, with plastic sheeting and signs
  5. respiratory protective equipment approved for the purpose should be used.

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