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The Other Devil You Know – Asbestos and the BRANZ Guide

Simon Hunt & Stuart Cole lead an interesting presentation on the current BRANZ guideline and how it incorporates asbestos in soil reporting.

Simon gave an overview of the key points of the BRANZ guideline and talked about the importance of an accurate conceptual site model and the risk of still finding something unexpected even with the most robust model. He also emphasised the importance of inspecting as much of the ground as possible, and testing separate geological units rather than mixing layers. A very brief demonstration of asbestos in soil sampling served as a start point for discussion of the various steps that are taken in calculating the weight / weight % asbestos in soil.

There was also discussion about how laboratories undertake qualitative testing and undertake the calculations, and discussed the dfferences in approach that can be applied while still remaining consistent with the minimum requirements of the BRANZ guidelines. He also provided feedback from discussions with various laboratories who undertake asbestos in soil testing, in particular highlighting common issues with samples that are provided to them that make it harder for them to process.

Stuart highlighted that different labs use different references for assessing the % asbestos content in various materials, and that not all of them state on their reports what these references are. The BRANZ guideline has a list of things that should be included as a minimum in a lab report, but there is quite a bit of variation between labs with regards to level of detail provided and how the results are presented. Recommendation was made that when the BRANZ guideline is updated it should include a lab report template to improve consistency and ease of interpretation.

It was noted that there is a list of problems / changes that people have raised regarding the BRANZ guideline and this can always be added to. However BRANZ will not be updating the guideline, and is in the process of passing all documentation to ALGA. The intention is for ALGA to co-ordinate the update, although currently a budget, process and timeline have not been set.

Same rules, different countries

There was some discussion of why the soil guideline values from the Western Australian Guidelines were used in the BRANZ guidelines, given how different the climate is in Western Australia compared to the majority of New Zealand.  Some attendees questioned why values based on essentially a desert climate were applied to New Zealand which is generally much more temperate. Simon advised that basing the BRANZ values on those in the WA guidelines was the most conservative option, the regulators were unwilling to consider other options, and the timeframe for preparing the guideline was very tight so there was not enough time to develop a viable alternative. Others in the room raised the difficulty of the time and expense required to develop and verify our own independent values based on NZ conditions.

Also there was discussion of why people are distrustful of asbestos laboratory reports while we are willing to take metals / hydrocarbon results at face value – if the lab is accredited then we should be able to rely on the accreditation to mean that the result is accurate. There was discussion of what the accreditation process was for asbestos in soil testing.

While there is a list of changes and problems that need fixing in the BRANZ guideline, at present it appears that there is no timeline or process for any changes to be made. The recommendation was given that the next version of the BRANZ guideline includes a template for laboratory reports, to make it easier to read and interpret comparable data.

The labs themselves also provided feedback, asking that people use the lab provided containers, not send larger sample volumes than necessary, take care with sample labelling and chain of custody documents, and not request urgent samples at short notice. They asked people to understand that large or complex samples just take longer to process, regardless of the turnaround time requested.

Presenter Name Presenter Company
Simon Hunt

EHS Support

Stuart Cole 4Sight Consulting

11 April 2019 event report by Shona Hobbs, AECOM
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