During the period from the 1940’s through the late 80’s, asbestos was in common use in Australian construction. Prior to the discovery of its carcinogenic effects, asbestos was prized in building for its many attributes. It was inexpensive and afforded good sound insulation as well as its fire-resistance and strength.
Now that its danger to humans has been well-documented, it is no longer in use, but can still be found in older construction. Considerable care must be taken in asbestos removal when it has been found in a building. The following is essential information regarding asbestos, its health risks and its safe removal and disposal.
What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fibre found in rock and soil. Due to its heat resistance and strength, asbestos was widely used in construction for roofing shingles, floor and ceiling tiles, textured paint and cements. Its fibres, however, can be inhaled into the lungs, causing lung cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis and other illnesses.
Symptoms of these diseases can sometimes take many years to present themselves. There are no known cures for asbestos related illnesses, though there are effective treatments for management of symptoms. For these reasons, it is strongly advised that inexperienced homeowners consult professionals when contemplating asbestos removal.
Have I Got Asbestos in My Home?
The challenge is that it is impossible to determine whether a material contains asbestos simply by looking at it. Careful, close examination of a sample using specialised microscopic procedure is the only way to tell whether a material contains asbestos. It is best for this to be done at an accredited laboratory. If you know the suspect material was installed before 1990, it is safest to assume it does contain asbestos. If in doubt, get it tested.
How to Handle Asbestos
Asbestos use in residential building was predominantly of the bonded variety, for use in wall and ceiling sheeting, paint and floor tiles. It is hazardous when it can be inhaled, in its fibrous state. As such, its danger is minimal in places where it remains intact in its bonded form. Wherever loose-bound asbestos exists, as with its use in insulation, there exists a greater risk, though this is seldom the case in residential construction.
The mere presence of asbestos in your home is not in and of itself a hazard. The danger exists when it is either disturbed or damaged, when it can release dangerous fibres into the air. In cases where the asbestos is undisturbed, it is generally best to leave it alone.
Given the risks, Homeowners should exercise considerable caution if they suspect that their home contains asbestos. It is important to note that homeowners are not allowed to remove asbestos from their own property if it is more than 10 meters of material. Even with a small amount, it is advisable to use licensed and trained professionals for handling asbestos materials.
A building inspection has the potential to assist you in determining if, and the extent that, a fibre cement product has been used in your property along with an indication of the general condition of that material. Coupled with an estimate of the age of the property, homeowners should then be able to determine the likelihood that asbestos is present and hence whether it is appropriate to engage a licensed asbestos inspector to undertake further analysis.
- Take care to avoid damaging asbestos material.
- Seek professional licensed assistance in repair or removal of asbestos.
- Use respirators and disposable gloves as a precaution when handling asbestos.
- Seal off the work area where asbestos is being removed from the rest of the home or property.
- Disturb undamaged asbestos unnecessarily.
- Saw, scrape, sand or drill asbestos materials.
- Dust, sweep or vacuum materials that may contain asbestos.
If you are uncertain as to whether there is asbestos in your building, contact a licensed asbestos inspector to make that determination for you.
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