Products containing asbestos have been banned in Australia since 2003, however there are still many manufactured items containing the cancer-causing material which remain in place throughout the country.
While tradespeople and home renovators are among the most likely to be exposed to the material families can also be at risk of exposure to asbestos fibres in everyday materials.
Asbestos testing and removal is one way to avoid exposing your family to deadly asbestos fibres.
Here’s what you need to know about asbestos and how to deal with it to avoid danger.
The Dangers of Asbestos
Asbestos, which refers to six different types of minerals, can be found in everyday manufactured items such as clothing, household products and construction materials.
If left undisturbed, asbestos doesn’t pose a threat to people. However, when asbestos fibres become airborne they can cause serious health risks.
Although small amounts of asbestos are normally present in the air, heavy inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause asbestosis, pleural disease, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Secondhand asbestos exposure is also toxic to humans. One of the biggest dangers is that the fibres cling to clothing and are easily transferred. Family and friends who may work, play or attend school in buildings where asbestos is found can often bring asbestos fibres home with them without realising, exposing others to the material.
Dealing with Asbestos
Asbestos materials that aren’t damaged or disturbed won’t cause a health risk. But extreme care must be taken if you suspect material in your home or workplace contains asbestos.
If you have an asbestos problem, there are legal requirements and safety protocols to follow to keep you and your family safe. This includes repair and removal, which should be done by trained asbestos professionals.
Short-term precautions include:
- Avoid touching, dusting, sweeping or removing the asbestos-containing materials
- Cover the asbestos-containing materials with plastic sheeting or tarp to prevent fibres becoming airborne
- Wet asbestos materials or surfaces to reduce the risk of dust particles floating into the air (a hose is fine to use but never use high pressure water blasters)
- Never cut, sand, scrape any asbestos products or use power or hand tools to break them up
- Cover children’s toys and prevent children and pets from accessing to affected areas
- Opt for wet clean up procedures over dry sweeping or vacuuming
- Follow OSHA regulations in the workplace for proper practices dealing with asbestos exposure, including asbestos awareness training
- Don’t bring home shoes or work clothes that may have been contaminated or come into contact with asbestos
- Organise asbestos testing prior to performing any renovation work on homes built before 1980
Awareness at work, home and school is necessary to prevent exposure and protect you and your family from asbestos hazards.
Asbestos in the Home
Uncovering asbestos in the home can impact renovation costs.
If your house was built before 1980, asbestos may remain in the insulation, cladding, roofing, water pipes, gutters, fencing, wall sheets, flooring, concrete formwork or fibro sheets.
Never perform DIY renovations until asking a building inspector or real estate agent if there’s asbestos in your property.
How to Identify Materials that May Contain Asbestos
Generally, there is no way to tell if asbestos is in your home unless samples have been taken and sent to a certified laboratory for testing.
However, if you believe there may be asbestos, treat the area or material with caution and leave it alone. Engage with a professional to collect a sample to test for asbestos and safely remove any asbestos-containing material.
Always seek advice if you’re planning to remodel your home or if there are damaged materials, like crumbling drywalls or insulation that’s falling apart.
Although the use of asbestos is now banned, home renovators should remain vigilant of the potential for exposure to older materials containing asbestos and protect their families when carrying out any renovation projects.