NATA


The Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956 prohibits the importation of asbestos and products containing asbestos except under limited circumstances. Apart from these limited circumstances, asbestos is a prohibited import even if it may meet the requirements of the exporting economy.

Under AS 4964 Method for the qualitative identification of asbestos in bulk samples, polarised light microscopy (PLM) and dispersion staining (DS) techniques allow for the identification of the three types of asbestos used in commercial applications. The limit of detection achievable is in the order of 0.1 to 1 g/kg depending on the type of sample being analysed.

If PLM and DS (with trace analysis for non-homogeneous samples) results in a clear identification of asbestos in a product or material, a decision relating to import of the product is also clear.

In some cases though, mineral fibres may be detected but it cannot be stated with certainty that they are asbestos. AS 4964 requires this to be reported as follows.

“Mineral fibres of unknown type detected by polarised light microscopy including dispersion staining. The fibres detected may or may not be asbestos fibres. To confirm the identities, another independent analytical technique may be required.”

The “independent analytical technique” often sought out is either scanning electron microscopy (SEM) or transmission electron microscopy (TEM).

NATA has accredited over fifty facilities for asbestos analysis in accordance with AS 4964 but there are currently no laboratories accredited for analysis using SEM or TEM.

While the SEM and TEM analytical capability does exist, the current level of public concern and the fact that the test results can be used by the Australian Border Force to seize an importation at the border – with  subsequent potential for prosecution – has led to a demand for NATA-accredited SEM or TEM testing capability.

Whether the level of demand for NATA-accredited capability equates to an adequate volume of testing is not known to NATA - it is recognised that even an existing SEM or TEM equipped and competent laboratory needs an adequate business case to seek accreditation.

Any facility that does believe there is a business case, is appropriately equipped and staffed, and has appropriately validated methodologies is invited to contact NATA to discuss the requirements for accreditation, the process and, of course, the costs involved.

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