This article was first featured in My Renovation Magazine.
Whether you are a professional tradesperson or a weekend warrior, it is not uncommon to come across a renovation project where you are required to deal with asbestos in one form or another.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that is resistant to electrical, chemical and fire damage. Because of its unique properties, asbestos was commonly used by the building industry since the 1800s when buildings were more prone to fire.
Little did we know at the time that asbestos is associated with significant health problems including lung cancer and mesothelioma. It was not until the mid-1980s that the legislation was passed, making the use of asbestos illegal in Australia.
Given the history, however, there is still a chance that your home could still have some building materials containing asbestos, particularly if the house was constructed before 1990. Any homes built after 1990 are unlikely to have any materials that contain asbestos unless imported building materials are used.
Asbestos-containing materials in your home
Asbestos-containing materials can be divided into 2 categories, friable and non-friable.
- Friable building products are by far the most dangerous to your health as the asbestos particles are more likely to become airborne and therefore, risking in increased exposure and health concerns.
- Non-friable (bonded) building products are more stable and include products where the asbestos particles has been mixed or bonded with other materials such as cement.
Some examples of building products that you may find in your home that may contain asbestos, particularly the home was built prior to 1990 include:
- Insulation/lagging – installed around hot water pipes
- Hessian – used on the back of carpet or carpet underlay.
- Non-friable (bonded)
- Asbestos cement sheeting – used for internal/external wall linings, ceiling linings, eaves linings
- Super six corrugated sheeting – used for roof linings, wall linings to sheds/carports and even fencing
- Asbestos cement pipes – used as stormwater pipes, vents and flues.
These are just some of the asbestos-containing materials that you may find in your home. Therefore, one must exercise caution when renovating older homes. Specialists should be contacted if you are unsure.
If you are handling any building materials that you believe may contain asbestos, you must use the appropriate person protective equipment and dispose of the asbestos material in accordance with your local council and/or the Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA).
Asbestos found in imported building materials
Australia is one of only 55 countries around the world where the use of asbestos has been banned across all industries. Given that this number is so small, there is always a risk that products containing asbestos could in fact be imported into Australia. While it is illegal to use asbestos-containing materials in Australia, currently it is not illegal to import those products.
Although the Australian Government through the Department of Immigration and Boarder Watch are working hard on preventing these products coming to our shores, builders, tradespeople and DIY renovators should all be aware of the situation.
Some countries that have not banned the use of asbestos include China, India, Russia, Canada and even the USA. If you purchase building product from countries where asbestos has not been banned, you can contact the manufacturer/importer and ask for the Safety Data Sheet or SDS for clarification. The SDS should list any hazards associated with the product and the correct safe method of using the product.
It is very important for all involved, particularly tradespeople and keen DIY renovators, to educate themselves on the issue of asbestos and best practice of handing the hazardous materials. This can be done by contacting your state body for occupational health and safety or workplace health and safety. There are also various publications on the safe handling of asbestos from these agencies that you would find very useful.
Take home messages
- Asbestos is still being used in other countries for building and construction.
- It is illegal to use materials that contain asbestos when building in Australia.
- In Australia, imported building materials that may contain asbestos can still be found on the market.
- Tradespeople and DIY renovators should also question the materials that they are working with especially when it comes to substitute materials.
- For builders, it is not always apparent if an imported product contains asbestos. When in doubt, ask for Safety Data Sheet or SDS for more information or consult WorkSafe or EPA state regulator.
About the author
To connect with Ben Morris, visit his bio here.