When asbestos cement products were first manufactured in the 1920s they were considered a game-changer for the building industry. A naturally occurring mineral, asbestos was found to contain strong fibres which offered durability, fire resistance and insulating properties.
Mined from the ground, asbestos could be made into many different products and these were extensively used in the Australian residential building industry between the 1940s and late 1980s. Little did people know at the time how dangerous these fibres were.
What Is Asbestos?
Up to 200 times thinner than a human hair, asbestos fibres can float unseen in the air for up to three months in a closed room. When the fibres are inhaled into the lungs they can cause shocking illnesses and diseases, including lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma.
Asbestos was completely banned for use and import into Australia in December 2003. (The ban does not apply to asbestos installed prior to this date). Unbelievably, asbestos products are still used in some countries today.
In Australia, asbestos was used in more than 3,000 different products, such as asbestos cement sheeting, fibro, insulation, roofing materials, pipes and guttering. So, if your home or workplace was built between the 1940s and 1980s, there’s a good chance it contains some form of asbestos.
Asbestos in Australia
Asbestos in Australia is a real concern. From the end of World War II until 1954, 52% of all houses built in New South Wales used asbestos cement. Up until the 1960s, a quarter of all new housing was clad in asbestos cement.
In Victoria, it’s estimated that a shocking 98% of homes built before 1976 contained asbestos.
In Queensland, if your building was constructed before 1990, it’s quite likely to contain asbestos products. Finding asbestos on the Sunshine Coast is very common, specially bonded asbestos cement products, such as roofing, shingles, exterior and interior wall cladding and fencing.
It’s the same story with asbestos in Brisbane, especially with the growing trend for renovating old houses. Simply living or working in a building that contains asbestos is not dangerous IF THE ASBESTOS IS IN GOOD CONDITION.
But when asbestos-containing material is disturbed, through damage, drilling or demolition, the dangerous fibres become airborne and can be inhaled.
Types of Asbestos
The three main types of asbestos are Chrysotile, Amosite and Crocidolite.
Chrysotile: The most commonly used example, Chrysotile is a white asbestos with soft curly fibres.
Amosite: Sometimes referred to as Brown Asbestos, this product has straight grey to brown fibres and was used where additional strength was required. This included the manufacture of asbestos-cement pressure pipes.
Crocidolite: Used in projects where acid-resistance was needed, Blue Asbestos has very fine and straight blue fibres.
All three types of asbestos pose health risks and are now banned in Australia.
Is Your Asbestos Friable Or Non-Friable / Bonded?
Asbestos products are generally referred to as friable asbestos or non-friable asbestos / bonded asbestos. This terminology refers to how easily the product may release asbestos fibres when disturbed.
Non-Friable Asbestos / Bonded Asbestos
Most of the asbestos used in Australia was non-friable asbestos / bonded asbestos. This means the asbestos fibres were bonded by cement, resin, vinyl or another material. This type of asbestos product releases fibres when damaged or broken.
The reassuring news is that these fibres are coarser and don’t pose as high a risk as friable asbestos. Having said that, however, they are still dangerous and need to be professionally removed and disposed of.
This is the most hazardous asbestos material. With very little pressure it can be crumbled or broken, and reduced to a powder. If this has happened in your home you need to take immediate action.
You should also note that previously non-friable asbestos / bonded asbestos material that has been broken or damaged can become friable asbestos.
There is no conclusive on-site testing for the presence of asbestos. It is necessary to take samples and have them tested in a laboratory. Click here for more information on sampling/testing asbestos.
As a general rule, if you think the material is asbestos, treat it as asbestos until you know otherwise.
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