What To Do When You Discover Asbestos In Your Building

Dangerous asbestos roof - Medical studies have shown that the asbestos particles can cause cancer - toned image

Before 1985, dangerous asbestos fibres were often used in a range of Australian construction materials. In those days, the naturally occurring mineral fibre – with its versatility, tensile strength, and insulating qualities – was thought to be God’s gift to the construction industry.

We now know that exposure to asbestos can be detrimental to your health. If you suspect that a building where you live, work or frequent contains asbestos, immediate action is required.

Step One: Evacuate

Exposure to asbestos poses significant potential health risks and can be life-threatening. If you are concerned that you have been exposed to asbestos, see your doctor. If you suspect that the material is present in your home or building, and you are not qualified to work with it, your immediate priority should be to secure the site and evacuate. You should then call in the professionals and have the site surveyed. They will test for Asbestos Containing Materials (ACM) and advise how to proceed.

Keep out sign Asbestor

Step Two: Identify & Assess

If you have reason to believe that ACMs are present in your building, contract an accredited Building Consultant to conduct an Asbestos Identification Inspection. In some cases, the presence of asbestos can be presumed prima facie but ordinarily, the inspector will take samples for analysis, to ascertain the presence of ACMs. Once the samples have been tested, an Asbestos Register (of both the analysed and ‘presumed’ ACMs) is compiled. This must be displayed prominently on the property to give clear warning to occupants, visitors and tradesmen where any asbestos is located.


Step Three: Remove

Removing asbestos is a dangerous task that should be carried out by licensed professionals. DIY asbestos removal is not recommended but, if you decide to tackle the asbestos yourself, first consult the official code of practice for asbestos removal, authorised by Work Safe Australia.

In older homes, three types of asbestos are commonly found: cladding, fencing and roofing. Many ACMs are bonded or encapsulated and, in this state, are not hazardous. But problems occur when the ACMs are demolished, drilled, cut, moved or otherwise disrupted, releasing the toxic asbestos fibres into the atmosphere. When removing asbestos, use tools and techniques that are least likely to disrupt the asbestos fibres.

Protective clothing is an imperative for asbestos removal. Porous materials, like shoelaces and fabric, should be avoided because they absorb the asbestos fibres and transport them beyond the worksite. Recommended safety gear includes:

  • Respirator
  • Asbestos-proof coveralls
  • Thick rubber gloves
  • Steel-capped gumboots

Bauer Elementary

Step Four: Disposal

Once the Asbestos has been removed from your home or building, you are left with the question of disposal. Where large quantities of asbestos must be disposed of, a skip bin may be your best option. Not all skip bin companies accept ACMs so discuss this upfront when enquiring.

If you prefer to dispose of the ACMs at a tip or waste disposal site, ensure that your chosen facility accepts asbestos. To find an asbestos disposal facility near you, search the National Waste Management Database.

Every site will have a list of strict rules around asbestos disposal. In most cases, the ACMs must be double-wrapped in black plastic, and packages must be thoroughly sealed with tape and labelled ‘ASBESTOS’.

Asbestos detection, removal and disposal are time-consuming and costly, but essential. This once-popular building material has left behind a deadly legacy that must be dealt with swiftly and cautiously, in all cases.

Have you had a brush with asbestos in your home or workplace? Share your insights and experiences in the comments section below.

Author Bio:

Jerry Tyrrell has over 40 years of experience in the building, architectural, timber pest inspections and asbestos testing & identification and founded Tyrrells Property Inspections more than 30 years ago. Since then Jerry has supervised the inspection of, or directly inspected, almost 80,000 buildings. He has hands-on experience in most building trades, and has designed, built, supervised and project managed building projects from $5,000 to $8m.

Does My House Have Asbestos?

Given the prevalence of asbestos being used in construction during the 20th century anyone who has a house built in that era should be asking themselves if their house has any asbestos in it. Asbestos was used in many different applications in construction including:

  • Fire retardant coatings
  • Bricks
  • Pipes
  • Cement
  • Gaskets
  • Pipe insulation
  • Ceiling insulation
  • Fireproof drywall / plaster board
  • Flooring (tiles, linoleum, etc.)
  • Roofing tiles
  • Roofing felt
  • Insulations around wires
  • Lawn furniture
  • Drywall joint compound
  • Fireproof doors
  • Caulking
  • Popcorn and acoustic ceilings
  • Exterior siding

In Canada one of the main uses that I was warned about was in ceiling insulation. Some types of blow in insulation that was used included small percentage of asbestos. This type of blow in insulation was called vermiculite, specifically Zonolite.

Australia seemed to have most of it’s asbestos in roofing and sheeting. Many homes were built using asbestos siding, including our first house in Townsville. Asbestos was also very common in insulated roofing and the building that I worked in while up in Townsville included this type of corrugated roofing material. Neither of these were a problem if left undisturbed, but if disturbed either through renovations, repairs or damage the asbestos could become airborne and potentially dangerous.

If you are at all worried that some of the material in your home may have asbestos in it then it is best to leave it undisturbed and to contact a specialist to get it tested. Given that asbestos related diseases are usually fatal it is better to get that piece of mind that risk exposure …

For more information about Asbestos check out the Asbestos Awareness web-site.

Asbestos Awareness Week – November 26 to 30

The first house that we owned in Australia was built in the 1950’s with fibreboard siding. When we had an inspection done on the house we were informed that the siding contained asbestos, a very dangerous and potentially deadly material.

Australia is having Asbestos Awareness Week from the 26 – 30 November, 2012.

There are still a very significant number of buildings in Australia that contain this dangerous material and significant care must be taken when dealing with it. Here are some tips that are offered by the Asbestos Awareness web-site.

  • You can’t tell whether building materials contain asbestos just by looking at them!
  • If you are in doubt, it is best to assume that you are dealing with asbestos and take every precaution
  • The safest way to manage the removal of asbestos is to hire a licensed asbestos removal contractor
  • Where asbestos fibres are loose and not bonded into building materials, you must use a professional licensed asbestos removal service
  • There are government regulations and your local council may also have policies regarding the removal of asbestos

There are many other good resources on their site and if you are concerned about asbestos or need to deal with it then check it out…