Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral with some unique chemical properties – namely high tensile strength and impressive thermal tolerance. These qualities led to it being widely used in construction projects around Australia.
But as we were to realise later, exposure to asbestos also causes rare forms of cancer. For that reason, its use has been outlawed across Australia, but asbestos is still widely found in older products and buildings. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at how asbestos has been used in Australia and where you’re likely to find it.
Background of Asbestos in Australia
Asbestos mining was a major industry in Australia before the risks of this material were widely known. These mining activities centred mainly in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia. And even today, solemn reminders of the damage done by asbestos mining remain. One place where this is obvious is in Wittenoom, which is now so contaminated that it’s not even safe for habitation. The area is desolate; even its town status was removed.
Asbestos was officially outlawed in 2003, after which point it was not permitted to be used for any purpose. In the years leading up to that date, it was used less and less, but it’s safe to say that asbestos was widely used in homes that were built before 1990, highlighting why asbestos testing, sampling and monitoring is still so important.
What is perhaps most concerning is how much time passes between a person’s initial contact with asbestos and their eventual diagnosis with an asbestos-related disease. In many cases, the latency period between these two events can be as much as 30 years. Given the fact that asbestos was fully outlawed less than 15 years ago, we’re still seeing a major year-by-year increase in cases of mesothelioma and lung cancer.
What Types of Products Contain Asbestos?
Asbestos was used extensively throughout Australia from the 1940s well into the 1980s. A housing boom was underway in those days, and we didn’t yet understand the dangers of this material. And even though the production, import or use of asbestos has now been outlawed in the country, it’s still found in many of the buildings that were constructed in those days.
And it’s not just homes. Asbestos is also commonly found in the following older products:
- Wire insulation
- Cement sheeting
- Water pipes
- Roofing materials
- Clutch facings
- Brake linings
- Automotive parts
- Fire protection products
- Packing products
- Floor underlays
The list goes on. If the product was manufactured before the 1990s, then it’s much more likely to contain asbestos.
Is There Asbestos in My Home?
Many Australians are understandably concerned that the home they live in – or one they’re considering buying – may contain asbestos. The problem is that there is no practical way for a layperson to determine whether a home contains this dangerous substance. A professional analysis is necessary to make this determination, and it must be carried out under strictly controlled parameters to ensure everyone’s safety.
Living in a house that contains asbestos presents serious health risks, but the symptoms may not appear for decades. This makes it all the more important that those who are considering purchasing a house in Australia think twice before purchasing and moving into an at-risk property.
Generally speaking, if the house was built after 1990, it probably doesn’t contain asbestos. Houses built in the 1980s are likely to contain some, and those built before this time almost certainly do. Homes that do contain asbestos are likely to have it in the following places:
- Sealed into roofing materials such as shingles; it’s worth noting that this asbestos will only be released if these materials are cut, sawed or drilled into.
- Thermal boards used in conjunction with older fireplaces; special handling is required when removing these, as it’s easy for them to release asbestos when disturbed.
- Gaskets found on older fireplace doors; as these become worn down over time, they begin releasing dangerous asbestos into the air.
- In the fibro sheets placed under eaves; these often end up broken during renovation projects, so it’s important that they’re properly removed and disposed of by a qualified team.
- Insulation used in chimney flues and water pipes; it’s easy for this insulation to contaminate the area if mishandled.
- Cladding and siding used both inside and outside houses; one of the most common culprits in this case is the backing used in conjunction with brick cladding on older homes.
- Some miscellaneous objects and materials, including fencing, fireproof materials (such as that used in fireproof gloves), older hairdryers, covers for ironing boards, etc.
As you can see, there are many common household items and materials that could easily contain asbestos – especially if the home or product is dated. New homes are safe, as they’re protected by well-enforced laws. But dealing with the asbestos that was already used in older construction is an overwhelming proposition.
It’s also worth noting that not all countries are as strict with asbestos as Australia is, and it’s possible for imports containing asbestos to find their way into the country. For example, a major story broke last year in which building materials from China were found to contain asbestos. In all, upwards of 70 buildings were constructed with these tainted materials – including a children’s hospital in Perth.
SERS Can Help You Determine If Your Property Contains Dangerous Asbestos
If you’re concerned that a property of yours may contain asbestos, SERS can assist with making a final determination. We conduct extensive asbestos surveys, which take in all of the following:
- Visual inspections of relevant areas
- Location of materials that are likely to contain asbestos
- Recording of the material and its location
- Assessment of the potentially contaminated material’s current condition and risk of doing damage
- Recommendations for minimising this risk
We can also conduct asbestos air monitoring, which allows us to determine whether or not dangerous asbestos particles have become airborne on the property.
SERS is committed to making this country safer by safely identifying and removing asbestos products in accordance with the prevailing laws. To date, we’ve played an active role in the abatement of more than one million square metres of asbestos around Australia, and we’re ready to do the same for you. Contact us today to learn more.