We have all heard about the dangerous and deadly nature of asbestos, but what is it and do you need to be concerned? Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is commonly found in building materials. Before the mid-1980s, asbestos products were widely used throughout Australia in the building industry, as it was inexpensive and had heat-resistant qualities. Over the decades, we discovered how deadly asbestos could be, so it was banned completely in all its forms in Australia in 2003.
Why is asbestos dangerous?
If you inhale asbestos, the fibres can catch in your lungs and produce scarring, inflammation and lead to asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis and the deadly mesothelioma. Asbestos can take decades to manifest into a disease, so the effects are often unknown for some time after exposure.
Asbestos only becomes a health risk when the asbestos fibres are inhaled so it is essential to know how to spot asbestos. Solid asbestos products, such as asbestos cement, pose no threat if they are undisturbed. However, if the product is damaged or crumbling, fibres can be released into the air. As homes built in the 1960s to the 1980s begin to need major repair or replacement, the risk of asbestos exposure becomes a real risk.
How to spot asbestos in the home
If your home was built after 1990, it's unlikely that asbestos products were used. However, a total ban on asbestos wasn't introduced until the end of 2003. If you do find asbestos in your home, it's important not to disturb it. Unbroken asbestos products are usually considered safe as long as they stay undisturbed.
Legally, you are permitted to remove asbestos yourself but considering the potential health risks involved, it’s strongly recommended you enlist the help of a professional. Specially trained asbestos removalists can remove and dispose of the asbestos safely, without risking exposure.
What does asbestos look like?
Many people ask what it looks like and how to spot asbestos. Unfortunately, asbestos takes so many different forms it can be impossible to tell what is asbestos and what’s not. Being a microscopic fibre, it’s not identifiable to the human eye. If you suspect that you have asbestos in your home, you should seek professional advice when attempting to identify it. Only scientific testing of a sample of material by an accredited National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) asbestos testing laboratory can confirm the presence of asbestos.
Different types of asbestos products
There are two types of asbestos products: friable and bonded.
Friable asbestos products are loose and easily-crumbled by hand and usually contain high levels of asbestos. This means the asbestos fibres can become airborne, making it extremely dangerous for people nearby. Friable asbestos products include:
- Heat resistant fabrics
- Spray-on insulation and soundproofing
- Low-density fibreboard
Bonded asbestos products are solid and non-friable. They are made by combining a small proportion of asbestos with a bonding compound such as cement. Bonded asbestos products include:
- Roofing, eaves
- Wall cladding
How to tell the difference between asbestos and fibre cement
Asbestos cement is no longer used in construction and has been replaced by fibre cement. If you have a property built after 1990, you won’t need to worry about asbestos cement. It can be difficult to tell the difference between the two, but asbestos cement generally has a dimpled ‘golf-ball’ like appearance.
How to identify asbestos sheeting
Again, it can be hard to identify asbestos sheeting. Age is generally the first indicator - anything constructed in the ’50s, ’60s or ’70s has the potential to be asbestos. Some sheeting can be identified by the brand, but it’s best to get a professional to identify asbestos if you have any concerns at all.
Most importantly, if you suspect you may have asbestos in your home - don’t cut it or drill it. Don’t saw or sand it. Don’t scrape or scrub it. Don’t dismantle or destroy it. And definitely don’t dump it.
Have you been exposed?
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, help is available. Although nothing can undo the harm, compensation may be available to help you access medical treatment and support for you and your family. Shine Lawyers are dust disease compensation claim experts and have a proven track record in obtaining results for our clients.
Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: November 12, 2019.