Hazardous materials in buildings

The university was founded in the early 1950’s and as such many of our early building can contain a number of hazardous materials.  The Facilities and Services Division manages our buildings and has a clear set of requirements in dealing with existing, and the removal procedures for these materials.

Types of materials that may be found can include Lead Paint, Synthetic Mineral Fibre, polychlorinated biphenyls, Ozone Depleting Substances and Asbestos Containing Material.  A brief description of these materials is below.

The information below is extracted from the ANU Hazardous Materials Management Manual (version QMS-FS-MAN-20-018 Revision 2 – 16/11/2017).  Further information may be found on the ANU Hazardous Materials Website.


The current Hazardous Materials Register for our buildings can be found at:



Lead Paint

Lead paint is defined by the Australian Standard (AS 4361.2 – 1998 Guide to lead paint management Part 2: Residential and Commercial buildings) as a paint or component coat of a paint system containing lead or lead compounds, in which the lead content (calculated as lead metal) is in excess of 1.0% by weight of the dry film as determined by laboratory testing.

Before 1970, paints containing high levels of lead were used in many Australian buildings. The recommended amount of lead in paint has declined from 50% before 1965, to 1% in 1965. In 1992, it was reduced to 0.25%, and in 1997 it was further reduced to 0.1%.

Synthetic Mineral Fibre (SMF)

SMF is a generic term used to collectively describe a number of amorphous (non-crystalline) fibrous materials including glass fibre, mineral wool (Rockwool and Slagwool) and ceramic fibre. Generally referred to as SMF, these materials are also known as ‘Man-Made Mineral Fibres’ (MMMF).

SMF products are used extensively in commercial buildings for thermal and acoustic insulation, and as a reinforcing agent in cement, plaster and plastic materials. In some specialised instances, SMF materials have also been used as alternatives to asbestos, especially where high temperature insulation properties are required.

Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB)

PCB is the common name for polychlorinated biphenyls. PCBs range in appearance from colourless, oily liquids to more viscous and increasingly darker liquids, to yellow then black resins, depending on the chlorine content of the PCB. PCBs are chemically stable synthetic compounds that do not degrade appreciably over time or with exposure to high temperatures.

The major use of PCBs was in the electrical industry as an insulating fluid inside transformers and capacitors. These transformers and capacitors have ranged in size from the very large transformers typically used by electrical supply companies, to the small capacitors used in commercial products. Capacitors containing PCBs were installed in various types of equipment including domestic appliances, motors and fluorescent light fittings during the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s.

Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS)

ODS are used for heat transfer in refrigeration and air conditioning systems, absorbing or releasing heat according to vapour pressure. Release of these substances to the atmosphere have the ability to cause long term atmospheric pollution that can lead to ozone depletion, global warming, petrochemical smog and acid rain.

The ozone depletion potential (ODP) of a fluorocarbon refrigerant gas, its global warming potential (GWP) and estimated atmospheric life (EAL) all contribute to its potential to deplete the stratospheric ozone layer and enhance the greenhouse effect (leading to global warming).

Asbestos Containing Material (ACM).

Asbestos is a hazardous material that poses a serious risk to health by inhalation if the asbestos fibres become airborne and people are exposed to these airborne fibres. Breathing in asbestos fibres has been known to cause asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

The only recognised method used in identifying asbestos containing material (ACM) is to utilise competent persons to survey a building for materials likely to be ACM, sample the material and use a NATA accredited laboratory to identify if the material does contain asbestos fibres. If an area is inaccessible and is likely to contain asbestos containing materials, then it should be presumed that asbestos is present. 

Asbestos can also be found in many items of equipment.  Some examples of these may include ovens, heater stirrers, old electrical equipment, gaskets, electrical windings etc.

What to do

If you find a material that you are unsure of, including possible asbestos containing materials, please undertake the following steps.

The material will be reported to ANU Facilities and Services who will engage an licensed Class A Asbestos Assessor to undertake an inspection, collect samples and provide a report on the material.  If the material is confirmed as being ACM, then a Class A licensed asbestos removalist will be engaged to undertake the remediation procedures recommended by the assessor.

The area is not to be entered or equipment touched until a clearance certificate is received from the Asbestos Assessor.