FAQ’s

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WHAT IS ASBESTOS?

Asbestos is a material that can have potentially fatal health effects – suffering or death.

Asbestos is the generic term for a group of naturally occurring silicate minerals. Mined and milled from native rock, asbestos is fibrous, thin, and strong. Chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, anthophyllite, and actinolite fibres are the most common types of asbestos minerals. However, only chrysotile, crocidolite, and amosite varieties are of industrial importance. Characteristics, like heat resistance, chemical inertness, and insulating capacity, coupled with the flexibility to be woven make asbestos suitable for use in many industrial applications.

Products made from asbestos cement – bonded asbestos material — include fibro sheeting (flat and corrugated) as well as water, drainage and flue pipes, roofing shingles and guttering. The “A” in AC Sheet means Asbestos – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Bonded asbestos can be found in products such as asbestos cement sheeting commonly used in building materials between 1940s to the late 1980s.

Other bonded asbestos products include:

  • Profiled sheets used on roofs and walls and flat sheets in flashings
  • All corrugated roofing sheets – “Super Six”
  • Shadowline walls on your beach house (Rye, Rosebud, Tootgarook, Sorrento etc)
  • Eaves / soffit linings
  • Porch ceilings
  • Stump packers
  • Heater window gasket
  • Window putty
  • Heat exchangers
  • Switchboards ( black in a timber frame)
  • Architectural cement pipe columns
  • Imitation brick cladding – false brick cladding (shit brick)
  • Roof shingles
  • Water, guttering or flue pipes
  • Plaster patching compounds
  • Textured paint
  • Vinyl floor tiles and the backing material
  • Vinyl floor sheet and the millboard backing material (looks like paper – don’t be fooled)
  • Friction products such as brake shoes, disc pads, clutch housings or elevator brakes.

Only fibro products made before 1987 contain asbestos. The use of asbestos was discontinued in fibro sheets by 1982, in corrugated sheets by 1984 and in all other products by 1986.

The manufacture and use of asbestos products was banned nationally from 31 December 2003 (brake shoes and linings were last to go).

What is the Technical Definition of Asbestos?

Asbestos is a mineral with long, thin fibrous crystals. The word asbestos (῾ἀσβεστος) is derived from a Greek adjective meaning inextinguishable. The Greeks termed asbestos the miracle mineral because of its soft and pliant properties, as well as its ability to withstand heat.

Asbestos is known to have toxicity. The inhalation of toxic asbestos fibers can cause serious illnesses, including malignant mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis (also called pneumoconiosis). Since the mid 1980s, many uses of asbestos have been banned in several countries – except for Thailand, Indonesia and Canada and others.

Asbestos became increasingly popular among manufacturers and builders in the late 19th century due to its resistance to heat, electricity and chemical damage, its sound absorption and tensile strength. When asbestos is used for its resistance to fire or heat, the fibres are often mixed with cement or woven into fabric or mats. Asbestos was used in some products for its heat resistance, and in the past was used on electric oven and hotplate wiring for its electrical insulation at elevated temperature, and in buildings for its flame-retardant and insulating properties, tensile strength, flexibility, and resistance to chemicals.

The term asbestos describes six naturally occurring fibrous minerals found in certain types of rock formations. Of that general group, the minerals Chrysotile (white), Amosite (brown), and Crocidolite (blue) have been most commonly used in building products.

When mined and processed, asbestos was typically separated into very thin fibres. When these fibres are present in the air, they are normally invisible to the naked eye.

Asbestos fibres were commonly mixed during processing with a material which bound them together so that they could be used in many different products. These were non-friable products.
Because these fibres are so small and light, they remain in the air for many hours if they are released from Asbestos Containing Materials in a building.

When fibres are released into the air they may be inhaled by people in the building.
The mere presence of asbestos in a building does not mean that the health of building occupants is endangered.

However, asbestos materials can become hazardous when, due to damage, disturbance, or through deterioration over time, they release fibres into the building air. They become friable.

Under these conditions, when Asbestos Containing Material is damaged or disturbed – for example, by maintenance repairs conducted without proper controls – elevated airborne asbestos concentrations can create a potential hazard for workers and other building occupants.

How can asbestos affect my health?

Breathing in asbestos fibres can cause asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. The risk of contracting these diseases increases with the number of fibres inhaled and the risk of lung cancer from inhaling asbestos fibres is also greater if you smoke. People who get health problems from inhaling asbestos have usually been exposed to high levels of asbestos for a long time. The symptoms of these diseases do not usually appear until about 20 to 30 years after the first exposure to asbestos. Then it is too late.

What are the health risks for renovators?

Most people are exposed to very small amounts of asbestos as they go about their daily lives and do not develop asbestos-related health problems. Finding that your home or workplace is made from fibro products does not mean your health is at risk. Studies have shown that these products, if in sound condition and left undisturbed, are not a significant health risk. If the asbestos fibres remain firmly bound in cement, generally you do not need to remove the fibro or even coat it.
Health problems can occur when people are unaware of the hazards of working with fibro and do not take appropriate precautions. The important point is to always work to avoid or minimise the release of dust or small particles from asbestos material. If you use commonsense and follow basic safety guidelines, working with fibro products should not be a problem.

Our recommendation is:

“DON’T DO IT”

get a Licensed contractor and we will take the risk for you.
Short term saving but long time suffering. Asbestos Kills.

Where could I find materials containing asbestos?

Inside my house

Bonded materials containing asbestos were often used inside houses for wall sheeting, particularly in ‘wet’ areas such as the kitchen, bathroom, toilet and laundry (eg. the glazed patterned panels around showers and baths that are held in with screws). They were also used as ceiling sheeting. Asbestos might also be found bonded in plaster patching compounds, textured paint, switchboards and vinyl floor tiles / sheet.
In the 1950’s there was a household heat spreader named “Le Protégé – Plat”. It was marked Amiante pur which is French for “Pure Asbestos”. (WOW)

Loosely bound materials containing asbestos might be found in a few older forms of insulation used in domestic heaters and stoves. Asbestos-felt was used as a backing for many vinyl and linoleum sheet floorings and does not pose a health risk while it remains undisturbed. However, these materials become loose when the floor covering is damaged or removed.

Asbestos insulation was not routinely used in residential buildings, although there have been isolated cases in New South Wales and the ACT. Loosely-bound asbestos was generally used in commercial buildings and industrial workplaces.

Asbestos-felt vinyl flooring and other forms of loose asbestos must only be removed by an asbestos removal business that holds an A class certificate.

Outside my house

Externally, bonded materials containing asbestos were commonly used for roof sheeting (Super Six) and capping, guttering, gables, eaves/soffits, water pipes and flues, wall sheeting, flexible building boards and imitation (false) brick cladding. They have also been used for fencing and building car ports, garages, bungalows, outhouses, garden surrounds, thunderboxes and sheds.

Loosely bound materials containing asbestos were not designed for use on the outside of houses.

As mentioned before, bonded materials containing asbestos are the most common asbestos materials in domestic houses. They are not dangerous if they are in good condition (ie. undamaged, undisturbed, painted, sealed). Loosely bound asbestos materials are not common in domestic houses – although there are some recorded cases here in Victoria.

What is the difference between friable and non friable asbestos?

Non-friable means that the asbestos fibres included in the product are held within a solid matrix (eg. cement in asbestos cement sheeting) and are less likely to become airborne unless the product is damaged. Asbestos fences, roofs, vinyl floor tiles and asbestos cement sheeting are examples of non-friable asbestos products.
Over 97% of the products in Australia were non-friable material in which the Asbestos fibres were bonded by cement, vinyl, resin or other similar material.

If accidentally damaged or broken these asbestos products may release a few fibres initially but will not continue to do so…
Friable asbestos products contain loosely packed asbestos fibres and can be crushed easily in the hand. Examples of friable asbestos products include insulating rope on old oven doors, asbestos insulation, steam pipe lagging and asbestos fibre blankets.

As a general rule – If the Asbestos containing material can be easily disturbed and become air borne – by the effect of a breeze or simply creating a breeze by walking past it – it is in a friable state.

As Asbestos products were very versatile they could be easily moulded, shaped, cut drilled or painted. There is no conclusive on-site testing for the presence of asbestos. Asbestos products can only conclusively be determined through laboratory testing following sampling.

As a general rule, if you think the material is asbestos – treat it as if it is asbestos until proven through laboratory testing.

How do I know if a material contains asbestos?

Generally, it is almost possible to determine whether a material contains asbestos simply by looking at it. The only way to be sure it contains asbestos is to get a sample analysed by a NATA (National Association of Testing Authorities, Australia) accredited laboratory. Contact us and we will refer you to our NATA Laboratory – around $50 / $60 approximately a sample.
If in doubt, treat the suspect material as though it does contain asbestos.

How might I be exposed to asbestos fibers?

Asbestos can enter the environment from weathered natural mineral deposits and fibre releases arising from manmade asbestos products. Asbestos may be found in products like floor tiles, roof shingles, cement, and automotive brakes. Electrical, plumbing, acoustical, and structural insulation applications are also very common. Asbestos fibres are released into the air when these products are disturbed.

How do asbestos fibres enter and leave the body?

Breathing asbestos-containing air into the lungs is the exposure route of greatest concern. Some of the asbestos fibres reaching the lungs are eliminated in exhaled air and others are coughed from the lungs with mucous. The fibres reaching the deepest air passages of the lungs can produce the greatest damage.
The digestive system can be exposed to asbestos fibres from drinking water and mucous cleared from the lungs. A small number of fibres may penetrate the cells that line the digestive system, but only a few will reach the bloodstream. These fibres will be released in the urine. Asbestos fibres contacting the skin rarely pass through the skin into the body.

How can asbestos affect my health?

Information on human health effects of asbestos comes mostly from long-term studies of people exposed to asbestos in the workplace. Asbestos workers who breathe in asbestos may develop a slow build-up of scar-like tissue in the lungs called asbestosis. This scarred tissue state impairs the ability of the lungs and heart to adequately provide oxygen to the body. This is a serious disease, and can eventually lead to disability or death in people exposed to high amounts of asbestos. Asbestos workers also have increased chances of developing two types of cancer: Lung cancer starts within the respiratory tissues, and mesothelial cancer grows from the thin membranes that surround the lung or the abdominal cavities. Both lung cancer and mesothelioma are usually fatal. These asbestos-related diseases do not appear immediately, but may develop 20 to 50 years after exposure.
The health effects from oral asbestos exposures are unclear. In some areas where the residents are exposed to asbestos fibres in the drinking water, cancers of the oesophagus, stomach, and intestine may be a greater concern. After reviewing the scientific evidence from human experience and animal testing; however, health authorities are still unsure of asbestos links to cancer in the digestive system.

Is there a medical test to determine whether I have been exposed to asbestos fibers?

The most common test used to determine if you have been exposed to asbestos is a chest x-ray. The x-ray cannot detect the asbestos fibres themselves, but can detect early signs of lung disease caused by asbestos exposure. Another tool used by physicians, called a pulmonary function test, can also be useful in identifying lung capacity changes.
Periodic health examinations by a physician, including a chest x-ray and review of asbestos-based risk factors, can be effective. Asbestos risk factors include levels, frequency, and length of asbestos exposures; period of time since exposures; and smoking history. The combined impact of cigarette smoking and fibre exposures can increase the chances of asbestos-related lung diseases.

I have asbestos in my home. Do I need to do anything about it to protect my health?

Most of the time, no. The common materials used in home construction are floor tile, eaves, switchboards, wet area backing, roofing and wall. These materials are very strong and don’t readily crumble and release the asbestos fibres unless they are subjected to strong forces. Occasionally other materials such as pipe insulation and thermal insulation, such as batt or blown-in insulation, are used in home construction. If you determine that you have this type of material, through inspection and analysis by a properly qualified inspector and laboratory, you should seek the help of a consultant to aid you in determining what you need to do to remedy your situation. If you never have the need to disturb these materials, you may be able to leave them alone. But if you know that a needed repair or renovation will disturb the material, you may want to start planning with your consultant to abate the asbestos during the project.

I am going to perform a renovation or demolition to my building. Is there anything I should know about asbestos before I begin my project?

The Victorian Worksafe Authority (Vic) requires that you perform an audit to determine the presence of asbestos in your building before doing a renovation or demolition. You must also notify before you start such a project. In Victoria you must notify the Worksafe Authority. Victoria also has rules that pertain to public buildings that require similar notification and further requirements such as licensed persons to perform the audit and to remove the asbestos.

Do new building materials contain asbestos?

No. Since 31 December 2003, asbestos and all products containing asbestos have been banned throughout Australia. It is illegal to import, store, supply, sell, install, use or re-use these materials. The ban does not apply to asbestos installed prior to this date (eg. asbestos in houses).
Asbestos has not been used in domestic building materials since the 1980s. Cellulose fibres are now used instead of asbestos in building materials and non-asbestos fibres, such as glass, are now used in insulation products. However, manufacturers warn that other health effects, such as skin and throat irritation, can still result from the inhalation of dust created when cutting these fibrous building products.

Is it dangerous?

Current scientific and medical evidence supports the fact that simply living or working in a building that contains asbestos is not dangerous so long as the asbestos is in good condition (ie. undamaged, undisturbed).
It is when asbestos is worked with or disturbed and asbestos fibres are released that the risk of developing an asbestos related disease is increased.
While most cases of asbestos related diseases result from sustained workplace exposure, some asbestos related diseases, particularly mesothelioma, can result from brief periods of breathing in asbestos fibres.
To minimise the chance of anyone being exposed to asbestos, it is very important that DIY home renovators prevent the release of asbestos fibres into the air.
Play it safe with asbestos. Before working with or removing a material that contains asbestos, consider:

  • If it is in good condition (eg. undamaged), can you leave it alone?
  • Do you know the alternatives to removing the material containing asbestos (eg. painting or sealing, covering with a non-asbestos product)?
  • Can you comply with the laws and safe procedures for working with asbestos?
  • Should you use a licensed person?

If I see absolute idiots removing Asbestos who should I ring?

Firstly, don’t ring the people you pay your rates to. They are unable to assist – trust me. Secondly, the Emergency Services are busy off doing other things. Don’t ring the Newspapers because they are not interested. Don’t ring Advice Lines cause they will only direct you to trades hall – as do Councils. When you go round and round in circles and don’t get anywhere – before you go completely mad please call us.
Alternatively, ring this number and tell a Worksafe Advice line all about it. I am sure you will get total satisfaction right here : 132360 and good luck. Then you may “TRY” 1800 136 089 ( Toll Free) otherwise send an email and kick back : info@worksafe.vic.gov.au. Then you may want to ring this number 9641 1444. If you don’t succeed you can go to their website and there are another 15 numbers for local areas. If that does not go anywhere then you can send a carrier pidgeon to GPO BOX 4306 Melbourne 3001.