Asbestos in your home? Know the risks

One in three homes in Australia contain asbestos. In fact, the majority of homes built or renovated before 1987 have asbestos somewhere, either inside the house, or surrounding the house.

Asbestos sounds like a bad word. But what is exactly is it, and what risks do you need to know?

House Asbesto

What is asbestos?

Asbestos refers to microscopic, naturally occurring fibres which resist heat, fire and electricity. Asbestos fibres were frequently used in industrial, private and public buildings throughout the 20th century because of their incredible durability. Asbestos is used in a range of building materials, including wall cladding, fences, walls, eaves and floors.

Why is asbestos dangerous?

Asbestos microfibres have been found to be dangerous, because they are easily airborne and inhaled. When inside the body, asbestos particles attach to body tissue. Asbestos has been found to cause mesothelioma, a rare but fatal cancer, which can develop in the lungs, stomach or heart. Australia has the highest rates of malignant mesothelioma in the world, due to building practices in the 20th century. Asbestos has also been linked to lung cancer and asbestosis, which is a degenerative respiratory disease.

How can I recognise asbestos?

Asbestos can be found in numerous building materials, so is often difficult to recognise. One of the biggest clues is the age of your house. If the house was built or renovated before the 1980s, there is a high chance asbestos was used.

Because of its durability and waterproof nature, asbestos is often used in external areas, bathrooms, laundries and kitchens.02

If you can’t identify a material as pure steel, wood or brick, you should get the material checked for asbestos. Also consider areas that can’t be accessed, like inside walls, or under the house. A house plan can help you identify these areas.

What should I do if I suspect asbestos?

If you are buying a home or apartment, it’s important to arrange a building inspection. This is especially important if you suspect asbestos.

Use a qualified inspector to identify asbestos. The inspector needs to be trained and experienced in identifying asbestos, and may need to send samples for testing. An occupational hygienist is generally trained in asbestos detection.

Do I need to remove asbestos?

If asbestos is undisturbed, microfibres are contained and should not be dangerous. However, if you are renovating, or wish to remove asbestos, it is highly recommended you engage a licensed professional, as asbestos removal is complicated and potentially dangerous.

Each state and territory has its own legislation and regulations around asbestos removal, so make sure you are familiar with the guidelines relevant to you.

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