Asbestos facts for renovators

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In general, domestic buildings contain non-friable asbestos fibres, which the authorities agree are not a health risk if they remain sealed and in good condition (such as painted, asbestos-cement sheet walls). If the fibres are disturbed during renovation precautions should be taken. While removing asbestos from your own property is not illegal, the safest option is to call in the experts.

Asbestos facts

What is it?

A natural, fibrous mineral. Valued for its durability, fire resistance and excellent insulating properties, it was used in the Australian building industry between the 1940s and late 1980s. In buildings, asbestos fibres are found either firmly or loosely bound in a number of products.

In Brief

  • If asbestos becomes disturbed while renovating it can be a health hazard.
  • Asbestos is difficult to see with the naked eye.
  • If you have any concerns, the safest thing to do is call the experts.

Firmly bound, or "non-friable", asbestos can be found in:

  • Flat or corrugated sheeting (commonly called "fibro" or "AC sheeting")
  • Water or flue pipes
  • Roof shingles
  • Flexible building boards
  • Imitation brick cladding
  • Plaster patching compounds
  • Textured paint
  • Vinyl floor tiles
  • The backing of linoleum floor coverings

Loosely-bound, or "friable", asbestos may be found in a few older forms of insulation used in domestic heaters and stoves. It is unlikely ceiling insulation used in domestic buildings will have asbestos - it was most commonly used in commercial buildings.

What does asbestos look like?

It's difficult to identify with the naked eye. The only way to be certain is to have a sample professionally analysed.

What happens if I find asbestos?

In many cases, there is no cause for alarm. For example, internal asbestos-cement sheet walls or ceilings that are in good condition and coated with paint are not a health risk.

Generally, the presence of asbestos in home building materials is not risky, unless it is broken, in a poor or deteriorated condition.

Can I remove it myself?

Legally, yes. However, asbestos must be handled carefully during removal, packaging, transport and disposal. It is recommended that you only remove firmly-bound asbestos - leave loosely-bound asbestos for the professionals.

What are the health effects?

Some people have developed asbestos-related lung disease, such as asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma, after inhaling asbestos fibres. Asbestos-related disease is generally associated with long-term exposure to asbestos in an occupational setting.

As the level of exposure that may cause health effects is not known, exposure to asbestos fibres or dust containing asbestos fibres should always be kept to a minimum. 

How to protect yourself

Ordinary dust masks are not effective. Wear a half-face filter respirator fitted with a class P1 or P2 filter cartridge, or a class P1 or P2 disposable respirator (available at safety supply stores and some hardware stores).

Wear disposable, full-body overalls, as well as a disposable hat and gloves. Males should be clean shaven.

After working, but before removing your respirator, remove your disposable gear and seal in a container marked "asbestos-contaminated clothing". Shower thoroughly. 

How to dispose of asbestos products

Do not dump asbestos waste in regular rubbish. Contact your government authority for more advice.

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