Cherie Barber's Expert Advice: Don't Mess with Asbestos
Understanding the risks of asbestos
A Danger to Gung-Ho Renovators
I recently had the honour of being made the first female National Brand Ambassador for the Asbestos Awareness Campaign (asbestosawareness.com.au). In many ways, it formalises something I’ve been doing ever since I started my renovation workshops — spreading the word about the risks and myths attached to asbestos and what to do if you even suspect it’s in the property you’re about to renovate. The reality is that if you are renovating an older home there’s a good chance it will contain asbestos of some kind. That’s because it was the “wonder material” of the building industry in the post-World War Two years.
Between 1945 and the mid-1980s in Australia, asbestos was widely used in the construction industry, especially bonded (asbestos cement) AC sheeting or “fibro” as we know it. It was only when the dangers of asbestos slowly surfaced that it was phased out of building products, ahead of a complete ban on the manufacture and use of all asbestos products in 2003. That means there’s still an awful lot of asbestos lurking in Australian homes, potentially putting gung-ho renovators at risk of dangerous exposure.
What are the Risk Factors?
The good news is that extensive studies show that asbestos in the home only presents a risk when it is disturbed and its microscopic fibres become airborne — and then inhaled and ingested. If the asbestos is in good condition and left alone, the risk is minimal. That’s why it’s really important for renovators to know where asbestos is typically found in older homes.
Where to Look for Asbestos
As a general rule, if your home was built or renovated before the mid- to late-1980s then it’s likely that asbestos is present somewhere. Asbestos fibro sheeting was commonly used in internal walls and ceilings, as linings for wet areas such as bathrooms and laundries, and as vinyl floor tiles.
Old hessian bags used to transport raw asbestos were sometimes recycled as carpet underlay. Loose or knitted asbestos could be in ceiling insulation or as lagging on hot water pipes.
Outside, look for it in exterior cladding for houses, eaves and guttering, in flat patterned and corrugated wall and roof sheeting, roof shingles, in imitation brick cladding, fencing, piping, in outside dunnies, dog kennels, cubby houses, sheds, carports and garages. If unsure, the only certain way to identify it is to call in a licensed asbestos expert or send a sample off for lab testing.
Handle With Care
And if you do find it, here’s the important message from the Asbestos Awareness team: “Don’t cut it! Don’t drill it! Don’t drop it! Don’t sand it! Don’t saw it! Don’t scrape it! Don’t scrub it! Don’t dismantle it! Don’t tip it! Don’t waterblast it! Don’t demolish it! And whatever you do… Don’t dump it!” In other words, leave it alone or safely dispose of it. If you are about to start renovating, I strongly suggest you check out the asbestos awareness website (asbestosawareness.com.au) and read their detailed recommendations about the safe handling and removal of asbestos.
Given the long incubation time between when asbestos exposure occurs and the various diseases like asbestosis and mesothelioma begin to manifest themselves (between 20 and 40 years), it certainly indicates the need for renovators to take extreme care around asbestos. We’re only just beginning to see the next wave of asbestos-related casualties emerge — and home renovators are showing up in alarming numbers in the statistics. Make sure you’re not among them.
Words Cherie Barber
Originally from Home Renovation magazine Vol 10 No