Clear Definitions Needed When Purchasing Asbestos-Free Products

asbestos free

Published Nov 26, 2017 4:41 PM by John Chillingworth

Unfortunately it remains the case that asbestos can still be found in ships of all types despite being banned from vessels since July 2002. Indeed, such is its prevalence that even though the manufacturing yard may have declared the vessel to be asbestos free, it is of particular concern that asbestos continues to be found in a many newly built ships.

To reduce the risks of workforce exposure to toxic materials, under the need for ship operators to maintain an Inventory of Hazardous Materials (IHM), it is a specific requirement that shipowners must avoid wherever possible the use of materials that contain potentially harmful materials.

In the circumstances, a key factor facing shipowners is how they can best protect themselves and especially when ordering equipment and materials used in vessel modernization, re-fit or repair programs.

In fact, one of the problems facing the marine sector are variations in what the term “asbestos-free” actually means in different territories. For example, in the U.S. up to 1.0 percent asbestos content can be permitted, while in the E.U. it is 0.1 percent and zero percent in Australia.

In the Far East, China has no official standard or threshold, and in our work with shipowners and shipyards there we have found as much as 15 percent asbestos in materials that have been declared “asbestos free.” 

This problem is compounded by the fact that there is no specific testing and certification of parts and materials by ship manufacturers or repairers.

Asbestos is typically found in whistles, pipe hangers, incinerators, boilers, deck composition and gasket materials often kept in ships’ stores. As a result it can be present in and on virtually all types of military and commercial vessels, as well as in oil rigs and other floating structures. 

In my experience, ships built in the Far East and Turkey are more likely to have a high percentage of items containing asbestos. China is also a leading protagonist, but it is important to understand that asbestos can be present in products manufactured all over the world. For example, we discovered a 2008 Scandinavian built ship that was found to have asbestos in a Norwegian built incinerator.

Consequently, because no actual testing of products, parts and component is carried out, everything is based on a manufacturer’s or supplier’s declaration. As a result, even if a newly built ship is actually asbestos free, the vessel can still be contaminated through items that are subsequently brought on board by the owners, operators or repairers and despite assurances that they remain asbestos free.

To avoid the risks posed by the inadvertent release of asbestos fibers into the air, shipowners and fleet management companies must ensure that their procurement departments include the proper requirements, wording and responsibilities in their standard terms and conditions of business.

As a starting point, as part of any clearly stated policy, it must be stated that all products have to be asbestos free, and that this absolutely means zero percent non-asbestos content.

The terms should also highlight that during ongoing maintenance and inspection programs undertaken as part of a ship’s IHM, random sampling of materials and products will be undertaken. If asbestos is detected in any part, component or material supplied to a vessel it will be replaced and the original supplier will be held responsible for its replacement and any incidental costs.

The IHM already recognizes that some specialist materials may well have toxic or harmful properties but cannot be avoided, as no alternatives are available. In such circumstances, it is a requirement that these materials will be sourced from manufacturers that have environmental management systems, to ISO 14001 or other appropriate standards, and where they are working to reduce the environmental impact of production and use of those goods. In addition, the quantities of toxic materials used in any such materials should be listed in the products’ material declaration.

The common theme running through the IHM and all related regulations is that wherever possible the shipowner should advocate the avoidance of toxic or hazardous materials. 

Given international differences in what “asbestos free” actually means, we believe that all vessels should be compliant and consistent with the highest standards, and that zero percent asbestos content should mean precisely that. 

John Chillingworth is senior marine principal at Lucion Marine.  

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.