Understanding Asbestos

January 30, 2014
Understanding Asbestos

The following is to serve as general background information only, and should not be considered as advice specific to your situation. Please seek professional advice in relation to asbestos in your home.

Asbestos is something none of us want to encounter. However, the reality is that up to one third of Australian homes are likely to contain some form of asbestos. If you are considering home renovations, then you need to be aware of the risks and legalities surrounding asbestos.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a fibrous silicate mineral. Due to its decay, heat and erosion-resisting properties, it was a popular material for choice for home building until the 1980s, when it became apparent that it was a health risk. Where can asbestos be found in my home?

There are essentially two types of asbestos – bonded, which cannot be broken down by hand when dry, and ‘friable’, which is in powder form or can be broken down by hand when dry. Bonded asbestos can become friable if exposed to hail, fire or other activity that might cause the asbestos material to crumble. The location of asbestos depends on what type is used. Pipes, water drainage and fibre sheeting are just some of the areas where asbestos could be lurking in homes.

Why is asbestos a health risk?

Inhaling dust particles that carry asbestos fibres can result in the lung cancer asbestosis, and mesothelioma, for which there is currently no cure. The greater the number of fibres inhaled, or the greater the duration of exposure to fibres, the more chance of contracting cancer or lung disease.

What should I do?

Never do anything that might disrupt or unsettle asbestos fibres. There are legalities surrounding the removal of asbestos (for instance, it is illegal to dispose of it in rubbish bins), so refer to the licenced professionals (see ‘who should I contact’ below) and assess your options once you’ve made the relevant enquiries specific to your situation. Note that friable asbestos can only be removed by a licensed asbestos removalist.

Asbestos Removal in Progress

What about insurance?

There are usually specific policies surrounding the removal of asbestos in residential properties. Contact your home insurance provider and make enquiries before you start renovating.

Who should I contact?

Contact your State Government, who will refer you to the appropriate resources in your state.