One-third of Australian homes contain asbestos, so it’s important to know what to look for and how to deal with this potentially dangerous substance.
Asbestos is a natural mineral fibre that comes in several forms. After World War II, materials such as bricks, tiles and pipes were expensive, so many Australians used asbestos-filled fibro sheeting to build their homes. In fact, asbestos remained a common component of both home construction and commercial materials until 1985.
Before that time, asbestos was considered a wonderful product thanks to its fire-retardant qualities, low cost, flexibility and strength. Many homes, schools and offices throughout Australia were constructed using asbestos.
Where to find asbestos in the home
Around one-third of Australian houses contain asbestos. If your home was built before 1985, asbestos is highly likely to be present in some form.
Within the home, asbestos building products were commonly used as external cladding, internal wall linings and for eaves and soffits. Asbestos building products were also used in laundries and bathrooms in place of tiles, and corrugated asbestos fibro was used for roofs and fences. Materials such as wall cladding and fibro may look harmless but they can actually contain asbestos.
What to do if you suspect asbestos is present in your home
In many cases of asbestos in the home, there’s no need to do anything. If a material within your house contains asbestos and is intact and undamaged then the product is perfectly safe so long as it remains undisturbed.
However, it is important that you are aware of the presence, or possible presence, of asbestos-containing material and how to handle any disruption of that material.
Exposure to asbestos through building products is most likely to occur during a renovation or demolition when asbestos-containing materials are disturbed, removed or cut. When asbestos fibres enter the air, the dust can enter your lungs and potentially cause serious health problems, such as lung-related asbestos disease or mesothelioma, a form of terminal cancer. Although these diseases are rare, the consequences are fatal.
Because of these dangers, if you’re renovating or planning to renovate, it is important to remove any materials that contain, or are likely to contain, asbestos, and be sure to exercise extreme caution. If you believe that you might have to disturb any asbestos-containing products then you should have the product tested by an accredited asbestos expert, who can advise you whether the product contains asbestos and how you should deal with it.
For more information on recognising asbestos or on registering your exposure to it, visit the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency website. You’ll also find helpful information on the Maurice Blackburn website. As asbestos lawyers, we can help you explore your options if another party’s negligence results in your exposure to asbestos.
Theodora Ahilas is a Principal and Director in Maurice Blackburn’s Sydney office.