Answering your Asbestos Removal Questions
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a naturally-occurring fibrous silicate mineral. It was considered a versatile product, because it is able to withstand heat, erosion and decay and has fire and water resistant properties.
It becomes a health risk when asbestos fibres are released into the air and breathed in.
Asbestos building materials is described as either “non-friable” or “friable”.
Non-Friable asbestos is any material (other than friable asbestos) that contains asbestos. Non- friable asbestos cannot be crumbled, pulverised or reduced to a powder by hand pressure when dry.
Common uses for non-friable asbestos in buildings include: flat (fibro), corrugated or compressed asbestos cement sheets; water, drainage and flue pipes; and floor tiles.
If fire, hail, or direct activities such as water blasting and drilling damages bonded asbestos, it may become friable asbestos material
Friable asbestos material is any material that contains asbestos and is in the form of a powder or can be crumbled, pulverised or reduced to powder by hand pressure when dry.
Friable asbestos was not commonly used in the home; it was mainly used in industrial applications such as pipe lagging, sprayed limpet and asbestos cloth and rope.
Friable asbestos can only be removed by a licenced asbestos removalist with a friable asbestos licence.
Why Can Asbestos Dust or Fibres be Dangerous to Your Health?
You must observe safety precautions when removing or working with asbestos, otherwise you risk exposing yourself and your family to long-term health risks.
Asbestos Awareness DEC 248
There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos fibres!
If asbestos is disturbed it can release dangerous fine particles of dust containing asbestos fibres
Breathing in dust containing asbestos fibres can cause asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is a cancer which most often occurs in the lining of the lung. There is no cure
The rates of malignant mesothelioma (an incurable cancer) are expected to rise from 2012 to 2020.
The risk of contracting asbestos related diseases increases with the number of fibres inhaled and the length of time that you inhaled asbestos fibres (number of years exposed)
The risk of lung cancer from inhaling asbestos fibres is greatly increased if you smoke
Symptoms of asbestos dust related diseases do not usually appear until about 20 to 30 years after the first exposure to asbestos
The average time between exposure and developing mesothelioma is about 45 years.
What should I do if I find asbestos in my home?
If you think that you have found asbestos in your home, don’t touch it. Asbestos is a risk in the home when it is disturbed in a way that produces dust that contains asbestos fibres. In many cases the presence of asbestos-containing materials in the home is no cause for alarm if the material has not been damaged. If the material is not damaged and shows no signs of wear and tear it can often be left in place. For example, internal asbestos cement sheet walls or ceilings that are in good condition and coated with paint do not pose a risk to health, while they are not showing signs of degradation or damage.
If materials containing asbestos are in your home and are in good condition (i.e. undamaged, undisturbed), the safest option is to leave them alone.
Visually inspect the materials from time to time for deterioration and damage.
If you are thinking about working with or removing a material that contains asbestos, please consider the following:
If it is in good condition (e.g. undamaged), can you leave it alone?
Do you know the alternatives to removing the material containing asbestos (e.g. painting or sealing, covering with a non-asbestos product)?
Can you comply with the laws and safety procedures for working with asbestos? Should you use a licensed asbestos removalist?
If you have to handle or work with asbestos it is important to remember:
- Do Not use power tools
- Do Not use abrasive cutting or sanding discs
- Do Not use compressed air
- Do Not use high-pressure hoses
- Do Not walk on corrugated asbestos cement roofs as you may run the risk of falling through the roof
- Do Not leave asbestos products around the garden where they may be broken or crushed
- Do get the material tested by a NATA-accredited laboratory if you are unsure if it contains asbestos
- Always work with asbestos in well-ventilated areas
- Ensure the material is thoroughly wet down and kept wet during work to minimise the release of fibres and dust
It is recommended that loosely-bound asbestos only be removed by a licensed professional, as health risks associated with handling this type of material are far greater than for firmly-bound asbestos.
How do I manage an asbestos incident?
The nature and circumstances of an issue or emergency incident involving asbestos, determines how it is managed and which agencies become involved.If you feel you are involved in an asbestos related incident then there are several State Government agencies that may become involved to help resolve and handle the issue.
If the event is a public health issue then it should be referred to the Environmental Health Officer of your local municipal council.
If the incident is an occupational health and safety issue then it should be referred to WorkSafe Victoria.
If the incident involves the transport or disposal of asbestos then it should be referred to the Environmental Protection Authority.
Below is a list of some of the issues and incidents that may be associated with asbestos either in the home or the workplace and the State Government agencies that may become involved in resolving or handling the issue.
- Householder removing asbestos material
- Transport of asbestos material by a householder
- Derelict warehouse being converted to residential use
- Derelict warehouse that is not a workplace
- Dumping asbestos material on private/public land
- House being demolished by a householder
- Fire at a residential premise
- Storing asbestos material on a residential property
- Removal of asbestos roof or cladding from a factory or any other workplace
- Contractor removing asbestos material from a residence
- Storing asbestos material on a work site
- Derelict warehouse that is a workplace
- Environmental Protection Authority
- Transport of asbestos material by a contractor
- Polluting land with asbestos material
- Responsibility of the employer
A safe environment in this case is no exposure to asbestos.
What if I accidentally break asbestos?
If you accidentally break a material containing asbestos, the safest way to manage any health risks is to wipe up any dust with a damp cloth or paper towel, put the cloth/towel into two plastic bags, tie them up individually and put them in your rubbish bin.
Do not use a normal vacuum cleaner as it cannot filter out all particles and can release more asbestos fibres into the air.
If the material containing asbestos is cracked, you should seal the crack with a product like PVA glue or paint. If there is more significant damage, the entire sheet should be replaced and the old sheet disposed of correctly.