Asbestos is a naturally occurring silicate mined in various areas around the world, with Russia and Canada being major suppliers. The properties of asbestos, such as resistance to fire, alkali and acid led to its wide usage up to the early 1970s, but its potentially hazardous nature resulted in some types of asbestos being banned. Of the three main types of asbestos -- Crocidolite (blue asbestos), Amosite (brown asbestos) and Chrysotile (white asbestos) -- brown and blue asbestos are more dangerous than white asbestos, according to Ealing (see Reference 1). The mere presence of asbestos does not necessarily create a health risk; rather, the health risks arise from breathing in microscopic asbestos fibres that are released when asbestos is mishandled. You can safely paint asbestos sheets by following the correct handling procedure.
Prepare the working area. Find a well-ventilated and well-lit area, such as a shed or garage, to perform the paint job. Minimise the number of people accessing the painting area. Use warning tape and notices to restrict access to the area. Close doors that lead to the area you will be working from. (See Reference 2.)
Protect nearby surfaces from contamination. Cover surfaces in the vicinity that you do not want to catch paint with 500-gauge polythene sheeting. Attach the 500-gauge polythene sheeting to non-asbestos surfaces with duct tape. (See Reference 2.)
Prepare the asbestos surface. Wipe a dusty surface with a damp rag or use the Class H vacuum cleaner to remove dust. Remove small bits of loose board or debris with a damp rag and put the bits in a stout waste container, such as a labelled polythene sack or clear polythene sack. Seal the waste container that has the debris with duct tape. Attend to minor damages on the asbestos sheet if they exist. Place a non-asbestos panel over damaged areas of the asbestos sheet to cover the areas. (See Reference 2.)
Apply low-solvent paint on the asbestos sheet. Use a low-pressure sprayer, brush or roller to apply the paint. Apply the paint in a sweeping motion over the entire surface of the asbestos sheet to achieve an even spread of paint. Avoid concentrating on one area when applying paint to avoid run-ins and surface damage. (See Reference 2.)
Allow the paint to dry. Read your paint manufacturer's instructions. Let the paint manufacturer's recommended time pass for the paint to dry completely.
Carry out the asbestos paint-job if you are properly trained and have the right equipment. There may be legal restrictions to painting asbestos. Contact licensed asbestos contractors, and training providers in your area, to get help or the necessary clearance and training to paint asbestos within the law and within existing health regulations. Thoroughly wash exposed skin upon completion of the paint-job. There are special arrangements for the disposal of asbestos waste. (See Resources.)
Asbestos fibres do not dissolve in water or evaporate into air and can cause lung cancer as well as other lung diseases. Keep exposure to asbestos low. Never prepare asbestos surfaces by sanding or rubbing down to avoid exposing yourself to asbestos fibres. Always wear protective gear when painting asbestos sheets, including disposable overalls fitted with a hood, boots without laces (they are easy to decontaminate as opposed to boots with laces), and gloves. (See Resource 1.)