What to do if you suspect your house contains asbestos

One-third of Australian homes contain asbestos, so it’s important to know what to look for.

What to do if you suspect your house contains asbestos

Around one-third of Australian homes contain asbestos, so it’s important to know what to look for and how to deal with this potentially dangerous substance.

Asbestos was widely used as a construction and insulation material in buildings constructed before the late 1980s.

Australia banned the use or import of blue asbestos, brown asbestos and asbestos-containing products in the mid-1980s. The manufacture and import of white asbestos products were not banned until December 2003.

However, building materials may have been stockpiled, stored or recycled and used in the construction of buildings after the bans came into force. This means there is still a chance that materials containing asbestos may be in buildings constructed after these dates.

Where to look
If your home, or the home you are looking to buy, was built before 1985, it is highly likely asbestos will be present in some form.

Within the home, asbestos building products were commonly used as external cladding, internal wall linings and for eaves and soffits.

Asbestos building products were also used in laundries and bathrooms in place of tiles, and corrugated asbestos fibro was used for roofs and fences.

Materials such as wall cladding and fibro may look harmless but they can actually contain asbestos.

If you are not sure if a product in your house contains asbestos, play it safe and assume that it does.

What to do if you suspect asbestos
In normal circumstances, the risk to householders from asbestos is very low. If the house contains bonded asbestos products that are in good condition, it is best to leave them alone but check them from time to time for any signs of damage or deterioration.

The main concern occurs if you are thinking about renovating, because the material will become dangerous if it is disturbed or damaged.

If you renovate without assessing the building material, you are at risk if asbestos fibres enter the air. When asbestos fibres enter the air, the dust can enter your lungs and potentially cause serious health problems, such as lung-related asbestos disease or mesothelioma, a form of terminal cancer. Although these diseases are rare, the consequences are fatal.

Because of these dangers, if you're renovating or planning to renovate, it is important to remove any materials that contain, or are likely to contain, asbestos, and be sure to exercise extreme caution.

In some states and territories there are restrictions on how much asbestos cement sheeting homeowners can remove themselves without a licence; check the regulations in your state or territory for details.

If you believe that you might have to disturb any products suspected to contain asbestos, then you should have the product tested by an accredited asbestos expert, who can advise you whether the product contains asbestos and how you should deal with it.

Some jobs are best left to the experts. If you are considering a renovation that involves disturbing large amounts of asbestos cement materials, removing friable asbestos products, or demolition of all or part of your property, don’t do this work yourself. Engage a licensed asbestos removalist who knows how to manage this work safely, and without risk to you or your neighbours.

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    COMMENTS

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    Country John
    25th Sep 2020
    10:35am
    Having worked in the security industry for many years in both private and government buildings I find the correct removal of asbestos a bit of a waste of time. Meters are set up around the perimeter and if they detect too much dust they alarm. That's show there is asbestos dust in the air and work stops. What about the dust that has blown PAST the meters. What about the dust that has landed on the ground and will be stirred up when someone walks through it. I mentioned this to the removalist and was told that they followed the rules and that was it. I have worked on 2 occasions without realising asbestos was being removed. I could hear work going on and didn't know that it was asbestos removalists at work. There was a lot of dust at that time. They were meant to check to see that there was nobody on site but they obviously didn't look too well. Perhaps it's changed now because I have been retired for about 6 years. We were allowed to drill up to a 25mm hole in asbestos as long as we vacummed it up at the point of drilling. The dust was emptied in the rubbish bin. It is so often for big business and government departments too hard to replace the asbestos so it was easier to let us drill into it. We did wear protective clothing etc. It's OK as long as it is not disturbed I have been told.
    Janus
    26th Sep 2020
    10:05am
    As a qualified asbestos Assessor (retired), I can assure you that the risks from minor exposure is extremely LOW, especially for Chrysotile (white asbestos). The vast majority of workers who were effected were in high fibre content air, for long periods (years) AND smoked. Air sampling is a waste of time and money, as it says nothing about what might enter your nose. The limits for air monitoring are really low, and allow for long term continuous exposure without any PPE, which exposure nobody gets. The test for the monitoring tells you what was, not what is, and the test itself is deficient as it looks at ALL fibre not just asbestos. Silly!!

    This is one material that was easy to work with, and I would prefer it to many others, such as hydrocarbon, mercury and other vapours, many gasses, and infectious materials. Asbestos is one of the most poorly understood materials, seriously overrated in hazard potential. There is no "safe" level, because there is no reliable dose data.

    That said I would be very cautious with anything that contains BLUE Asbestos (Crocidolite) or the range of Brown Asbestoses (Amosite etc). These are NOT good and a little bit goes a long way. Do remember though that anyone who tells you that a "single fibre can kill" has no idea of what they are talking about, so ignore them. There is asbestos fibre in most of the air we continually breath.

    Also don't get ripped off by experts who tell you that you need to spend heaps of money on testing samples. in MANY cases, it can be identified by an experienced inspector, just using a hand lens. Some states require testing (and air monitoring), but they have been "done" by the consultants who do the testing and monitoring!! What a coup! Well done them!!

    The whole Asbestos industry runs on overestimated fear, enhanced by a successful lobby group and the lawyers, who have fooled the risk averse politicians. I always worked on evidence, not guesswork.

    Sounds a little like the Nuclear Power industry, doesn't it?
    Incognito
    27th Sep 2020
    9:16pm
    So good to read what you wrote Janus, thanks for your expertise. I was worried because I rent and had a corner of a sheet drop from the overhang (underneath part of the tin roof)and had cleaned up the debris and have been worried since about the dust not knowing if it was asbestos or not, it is flat not corregated and white. I have shown the real estate girl that came for inspection and all she said was I will tell the owners.
    Incognito
    27th Sep 2020
    9:17pm
    Good to read comment from Janus who has experience in asbestos.


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