What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral containing strong fibres that have excellent durability, fire resistance and insulating properties. However, if disturbed and fibres become airborne and are inhaled, it can pose a health risk.

How do I know if a material in my house contains asbestos?

You can’t tell if a building material contains asbestos just by looking at it. Careful examination of a sample using specialised microscopic procedures can be completed at a NATA accredited laboratory to confirm whether a material contains asbestos.

As a general rule, if your home was built before 1990, it is likely to contain some asbestos materials. A knowledge of building products that contained asbestos can help to assume asbestos is present. Asbestos was used in more than 3000 products and applications and it is estimated to be in one in three homes across Australia.

Do new building materials contain asbestos?

No. Since 31 December 2003, asbestos and all products containing asbestos have been banned throughout Australia. It is illegal to import, store, supply, sell, install, use or re-use these materials. The ban does not apply to asbestos previously installed (e.g. asbestos in houses).

What should I do if I find asbestos in my home?

You don’t need to remove asbestos. If materials containing asbestos are in good condition (i.e. undamaged, undisturbed), the safest option is to leave them alone. The materials are not dangerous if undisturbed and sealed.

Before commencing your renovation, ask yourself or your tradesperson these questions:

  • Can you avoid disturbing asbestos materials?
  • How much asbestos material will you remove ( <10 m2 )?
  • How will you or your tradesperson dispose of asbestos waste?
  • How will you stop your exposure to fibres or that of your family or neighbours?
  • Who will you use to do the job?
  • Are you aware of all the risks?

Health effects

What can happen if I am exposed to asbestos fibres?

Breathing in asbestos fibres has been linked to asbestos-related diseases, all of which can be fatal. Asbestos-related diseases have a latency period of up to 40-50 years before they may take effect.

Currently there are no cures for these diseases.

What is the likelihood of a person developing an asbestos-related illness?

The likelihood of any particular person developing an asbestos-related illness depends on a number of factors, including:

  • duration and frequency of time a person is exposed to airborne asbestos fibres
  • concentration or levels of asbestos in the air breathed
  • individual susceptibility
  • size and type of asbestos fibres
  • other factors, such as cigarette smoke. (Research has shown that smoking significantly increases the risk of lung cancer in people who have been exposed to asbestos.)

What is asbestosis?

A chronic lung disease that can lead to respiratory impairment and to diseases such as lung cancer. Asbestosis causes widespread interstitial fibrosis (scar tissue between the alveoli, spread over the lung).

It is difficult to distinguish from other causes of interstitial fibrosis and only confirmation of exposure to asbestos or detection of unusually high numbers of asbestos fibres in the lung is considered conclusive evidence of this disease.

What is mesothelioma?

A cancer of the lining of the pleura (outer lung lining) or of the peritoneum (the lining of the abdominal cavity).

  • It is a rare disease – incidence is 1 in every 100 000 for males and 0.3 in every 100 000 for females.
  • Asbestos is not the only cause of this disease, but it is the most important cause in modern times.
  • It is typically dose-related, but in rare cases has been known to occur in patients with little known occupational exposure to asbestos.

Testing for asbestos

Can I get materials tested for asbestos?

Yes. Laboratories that analyse building materials for asbestos can be found by contacting the National Association of Testing Authorities.

The laboratory or an asbestos consultant can give you advice on how to correctly take and send a sample. There will be fees involved.

Check online or use a telephone directory and search under ‘asbestos’.

Additional Information

Additional information is available on the Asbestos Awareness website.

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