Many of us enjoy home renovating – taking what’s old and tired and giving it a new lease on life, but not all of us are aware of a silent and potentially deadly risk… asbestos.
A naturally occurring fibrous mineral, asbestos was used extensively in Australia from the mid-1940’s to the late 80’s. Its versatility and fire resistance meant it was used in over 3000 household and building products, including cement sheeting; roofing tiles and guttering; electrical switchboards; and even things like window putty and vinyl tiles.
Despite its health hazards being well-known, it was in production in Australia until 1984, phased out during the 80s, but not completely banned until 2003. If you’re working on a building built or renovated before 1990, it is likely to contain asbestos. If asbestos is disturbed, thousands of tiny fibres are released becoming airborne. Inhalation is the most common, and most dangerous cause of exposure, with fibres becoming embedded in the lungs. This can cause scaring of the lung tissue, leading to asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma – a terminal cancer.
YOU CAN’T SEE, SMELL OR TASTE ASBESTOS!
A ‘silent killer’, its health effects can take 15 to 40 years to appear. On average, one person dies every 12 hours in Australia from mesothelioma. The first wave of lung disease due to asbestos exposure was from working with the raw product in mining and the production of asbestos materials. The second wave hit workers using those materials. Due to on-the-job exposure, men were affected more than women. But the third wave, which we are now experiencing, includes home renovators and tradies – with a trend toward women being exposed. Building materials containing asbestos are ageing, and by demolishing, disturbing or not properly maintaining these materials, the risk of exposure is increased.
Free kNOw asbestos eLearning module
Home owners who are renovating homes built pre 1990, should consider the possibility of their existing structure containing some form of asbestos. The Cancer Council provides a free kNOw asbestos in your home online eLearning module. This module provides invaluable information about how to identify asbestos, understand the risks, and develop safe work practices when working with or removing small amounts of asbestos-containing materials, however it is recommended that asbestos removal is completed by a licensed professional.
Free Asbestos-Containing Material Check App
Another handy tool is the Asbestos-Containing Material (ACM) Check app, designed to help you identify materials around the home that could contain asbestos fibres. Download the free app for your smartphone or tablet from the App Store or Google Play.
As a general guide, if your home was built or renovated:
- Before the mid 1980’s, It is very likely to contain asbestos-containing materials.
- Mid 1980’s to 1990, It is likely to contain asbestos-containing materials.
- After 1990, It is unlikely to contain asbestos-containing materials.
In Australia, asbestos-containing materials were mainly asbestos cement products such as ‘fibro’ sheets/board or cement pipe, but it can also be found in:
- Insulation (lagging, loose fill or spray insulation)
- Floor tiles (and their adhesives)
- Textiles (rope, wraps used in fuses, wood heater seals etc.)
- Expansion joints and joining putty
- Textured paints
Our Guest Contributor:
Our thanks to Jo Morris, Operations Manager – Reflections through Reality for sharing these important insights with the Build in Common Community. Jo is the driving force behind the Foundation. Her passion for the cause was shared with her father, Reflections founder Barry Knowles, and she is proud to carry on his legacy.
Reflections Through Reality is a non-profit promoting medical research into a cure for mesothelioma, increasing awareness of the risks of asbestos in the community and supporting sufferers.
The work being undertaken by Reflections Through Reality would not be possible without ongoing support from the community. All donations $2 and over are tax deductible. To find out more simply visit reflections.org.au.