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Safety alert – Asbestos in acetylene cylinders imported from China

Purpose

This safety alert provides information about asbestos found in imported acetylene cylinders.

Background

Testing identified asbestos in internal insulation (porous mass) in acetylene cylinders. The cylinders were manufactured and supplied by companies based in China. The Australian importer was advised by the China-based supplier that the cylinders were asbestos-free. A batch was tested in China in 2018 and the laboratory certificate stated the insulation did not contain asbestos. Another batch was tested in 2020 by a National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) laboratory In Australia and was found to contain chrysotile asbestos.

Product description

Acetylene is a colourless gas which is widely used as a fuel and a chemical building block. It is the hottest of all fuel gases and is used in welding, plastics and acrylic acid derivatives and portable lighting. An acetylene cylinder has a different design from most other gas cylinders, with a steel shell containing a porous mass. Asbestos can sometimes be in the porous mass, and the neck and base of the cylinder.

Asbestos in imported products

Asbestos has been prohibited in Australia since December 2003, but in some countries it is still used in manufactured products. Certification of asbestos-free goods from some overseas manufacturers has sometimes been found not to meet Australian requirements. The importation, manufacture, supply, sale and use or reuse of asbestos and asbestos-containing products is not permitted, except under very limited circumstances.

Some supplier countries may classify goods with low levels of asbestos as ‘asbestos-free’. In Australia, any level of asbestos is prohibited for import or use.

Risk control

These cylinders do not pose a measurable health risk through normal consumptive use, but consumers should not perform any maintenance, repairs or modifications on them. If you have concerns you should contact the Australian supplier.

Testing requirements

Under work health and safety legislation, the duty is on the importer and supplier to ensure materials they are importing and supplying do not contain asbestos. Customers can reasonably expect the supplier to provide evidence (as outlined below) that the materials do not contain asbestos.

If you import any items, it is your responsibility to have the items (and components of the items) tested for asbestos content so you can demonstrate they are asbestos free.

If the imported product has a risk of containing asbestos, the Australian Border Force will require assurances that the product and its component parts do not contain asbestos. If assurance is not provided, you will face delays and be responsible for costs incurred when the product is held at the border for sampling and testing. Importers should be familiar with the information on the ABF website.

The only certain way of assuring a product does not contain asbestos is for a sample to be analysed by a laboratory accredited for asbestos identification. Australian accredited laboratories can be found at the NATA website.

In Australia, samples are to be sent to a laboratory that is NATA accredited for asbestos testing and conforms to the following:

  • Accredited for compliance with ISO/IED:17025.
  • Uses test method AS 4964-2004 for the qualitative identification of asbestos in bulk samples by polarised light microscopy (PLM) including dispersion staining techniques.
  • Accredited by NATA for the above method, noting the following:
    • AS 4964 will adequately identify crocidolite, amosite and chrysotile asbestos if present in the samples.
    • However, AS 4964 states - samples of tremolite, actinolite and anthophyllite show a wide range of optical properties and cannot be equivocally identified by PLM and dispersion staining.
    • This means that while the laboratory should be able identify if mineral fibre/s are present, it may not be able to identify if the fibre is tremolite, actinolite and anthophyllite asbestos.

Therefore, the laboratory carrying out the analysis must provide a test analysis certificate that:

  • includes a statement that the laboratory complies with ISO/IED:17025, is accredited by NATA for the method used and state the test method used, and
  • states if asbestos is present, including the type of asbestos, or
  • states no asbestos detected (NAD) when no asbestos has been detected, and
  • also state the limit of detection of the analytical method, and  
  • states if unknown mineral fibre/s were identified, and
  • has a batch number or unique identifier such as a serial number to identify the goods or materials tested.

If the test analysis is uncertain regarding asbestos content and/or unknown mineral fibres were identified, you must either:

  • assume asbestos fibres are present and manage the product as an asbestos containing material
  • have the samples analysed using a confirmation technique such as electron microscopy that will identify unknown mineral fibre/s and XRD analysis that will determine the chemical composition of the unknown mineral fibre/s.

Managing the risk of asbestos in imported products

The Preventing goods or materials containing asbestos being supplied to workplaces in Queensland includes information on:

  • how the importation of asbestos is regulated at the Australian border and the products at particular risk of containing asbestos
  • what businesses must do to ensure imported products do not contain asbestos
  • types of verifications that exist for Australian importers or consumers to show imported materials do not contain asbestos
  • acceptable standards for testing if materials contain asbestos.

Contact your WHS regulator

Jurisdiction Regulator Contact details Website
QLD Workplace Health and Safety Qld 1300 362 128 www.worksafe.qld.gov.au
QLD Qld Gov Asbestos page 13 74 68 www.asbestos.qld.gov.au
ACT WorkSafe ACT 02 6207 3000 www.worksafety.act.gov.au/health_safety
ACT Asbestos Awareness
ACT Government
13 22 81 www.asbestos.act.gov.au
C’wealth Comcare 1300 366 979 https://www.comcare.gov.au/safe-healthy-work/dust-conditions
NSW Safework NSW 13 10 50 www.workcover.nsw.gov.au
NT Worksafe NT 1800 019 115 https://worksafe.nt.gov.au/safety-and-prevention/asbestos  
SA SafeWork SA 1300 365 255 www.safework.sa.gov.au
SA SA Gov Asbestos page 1300 365 255 www.asbestos.sa.gov.au
TAS Worksafe TAS 1300 366 322 https://www.worksafe.tas.gov.au/asbestos-safety
VIC Worksafe VIC 1800 136 089 www.worksafe.vic.gov.au
VIC Vic Gov Asbestos page 1800 136 089 www.asbestos.vic.gov.au
WA WorkSafe WA 1300 307 877 www.commerce.wa.gov.au/WorkSafe