Asbestos found in external and internal render

The purpose of this Safety Alert is to alert businesses and workers to the importance of asbestos testing before commencing work in older buildings. Asbestos causes cancer and the importation and use of asbestos has been banned in Australia since 31 December 2003.


Two incidents have occurred in Darwin where asbestos has been found in locations not expected by the contractors. Asbestos was used in over 3,000 products and can be found in many buildings and structures built or renovated before 1990 in the Northern Territory. Testing by a NATA approved laboratory is the only way to confirm the presence of asbestos.

In the first incident, contractors engaged to demolish an old commercial building conducted sampling and asbestos testing before they commenced work. A sample of the buildings external cement render returned positive for asbestos despite the external render not being listed as a location for asbestos in the building asbestos register. Additional sampling and testing of the external render from around the building all returned positive results.

In the second incident, contractors renovating a residential house drilled into a concrete ceiling which had a vermiculite coating. Vermiculite is a spray-on textured ceiling finish popularly used in the 1970’s to early 80’s. Asbestos has previously been found in some vermiculite. The concerned homeowner had a licensed asbestos assessor test the vermiculite which returned positive for asbestos. At least six workers and the homeowner have potentially been exposed to asbestos fibres.

This is a composite of two images. The image on the left shows the asbestos containing vermiculite. The image on the right shows the asbestos containing external render.

Possible contributing factors

  • The asbestos register for the commercial building did not list the external render as containing asbestos as the person creating the register may not have sampled and tested the render as they didn’t think it would contain asbestos.
  • The contractors renovating the residential house did not think the vermiculite coating would contain asbestos and did not sample and test. Not all vermiculite contains asbestos.

Action required

Further information

For further information, please refer to the following:

Incident information release

Code of Practice