Asbestos is the generic term for a number of fibrous silicate minerals. Products made from asbestos cement – a bonded asbestos material – include fibro sheeting (flat and profiled) guttering and downpipes, as well as other pipes for water, drainage or flues, corrugated roofing sheets, roofing shingles and guttering.
Asbestos materials were cheap and durable and after World War II until 1954 it was used extensively in the building industry.
Up till the 1960s, 25% of all new housing was clad in asbestos cement in Australia and around 20% of all domestic roofs of that period contained asbestos.
Is asbestos still used?
The good news is NO.
Asbestos has not been used in domestic building materials since the 1980s, however, it was not until 31 December, 2003, that the use of asbestos and all products containing asbestos was banned throughout Australia.
It is now illegal to import, store, supply, sell, install, use or re-use asbestos products.
Please note: the ban does not apply to asbestos installed prior to this date and if your home contains asbestos you are not required to remove it, but if you do then you must follow safety guidelines and you cannot dump any type of asbestos material in a general waste disposal area.
What are the health risks?
The health risks associated with working in the asbestos industry and being exposed to asbestos products through occupational, environmental and secondhand factors are now well known and
documented and include Cancer; Mesothelioma, Asbestosis and other related serious conditions.
It is strongly recommended before starting to undertake any type of renovation on a house built before the late 1980s that absolute caution be observed as it can potentially have asbestos containing materials like fibro, and exposure to broken asbestos by breathing in asbestos fibers which are toxic can be serious especially for anyone who smokes and young children.
When renovating – where would I find asbestos in a house?
It is very hard to identify asbestos products in a house just by looking at them, but here is a list of potential locations where asbestos was used in houses built or renovated before the late 1980s:
Flat, patterned or corrugated wall and roof sheeting
Lining under eaves
Lagging on hot water pipes
Vinyl floor tiles and backing to cushion tile and vinyl flooring
Internal and external walls
Imitation brick or weatherboard cladding
Insulation in wood heaters
Asbestos cement sheeting beneath heater hearths
Electrical meter boards
Garages and carports
If you suspect there could be asbestos materials; the only way to be certain is to have a sample of the material analysed by a laboratory. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO REMOVE IT OR BREAK IT UP, call in an expert first and contact NATA – The National Association of Testing Authorities for an analytical laboratory in your area that is accredited to identify asbestos, visit NATA website: www.nata.asn.au
Confirmation should be carried out before any general maintenance, renovation or demolition activities proceed.