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Considering how commonly used asbestos was in Australia’s history, you must know whether there are risks of asbestos exposure in your home. There is the possibility of asbestos being present in Melbourne homes, and there may be several reasons for this. This post considers asbestos in Australian homes: a Melbourne perspective.

Here, you can read up on the risk of asbestos exposure in Melbourne and Australian homes. The asbestos materials and risk areas in the asbestos homes section provide a guide to asbestos in your house. The post also considers asbestos in building materials, the types of asbestos-containing materials, and the dangers of asbestos in Australia today.

Risk of Asbestos Exposure in Melbourne

You need to take an open-minded approach when considering the possible presence of asbestos in your Melbourne home. Homes built during the mid-1940s to late 1980s are more likely to contain asbestos. Even if you are sure that asbestos was not installed when your Victorian building was new, asbestos materials may have been added during alterations. Asbestos materials may have been re-used.

This may also be true if your Melbourne flat was refitted in the 1970s.

Understanding asbestos risks in this sense means that you should be prepared for the following:

  • Implementing safety precautions in the process of dealing with asbestos
  • Following legal requirements and best practices for asbestos identification, testing, and removal
  • Taking appropriate measures for the safe disposal of asbestos

Asbestos Materials and Risk Areas 

Knowing what area or product in your home possibly contains asbestos is essential so you can watch out for it and act promptly. Here are some possible asbestos materials and risk areas in Australian and Melbourne homes.

  • Asbestos insulating boards may have been used in your stairwells. This may also be true for fire door cover panels.
  • Concrete may have been used as the floor base in ground floor rooms, and you may have vinyl floor tiles. These may be underneath vinyl flooring or carpet.
  • Your stair nosing and stair skirting may contain asbestos.
  • Cement bath panels, bitumen sink pads, and reinforced black resin cisterns may contain asbestos.
  • Rope gaskets in old boilers and fuse boards may contain asbestos materials.
  • Boiler insulation, cement garage roofs, and rope cords in sash cord-type windows may contain asbestos.

Note: One source you may refer to for images of areas where you may find asbestos in your home is the Asbestos Awareness website.

Asbestos in building materials

Building materials are a common source of asbestos in homes. For example, asbestos sheeting was a standard building product in over one million Australian homes. Likewise, many Australian homes contain asbestos in less conspicuous locations, such as in hot water system insulations.

Here are some examples of asbestos-containing and building products that may contain asbestos.

  • Asbestos cement sheets or fibro sheets
  • Asbestos cement pipes
  • Vinyl flooring that contains asbestos
  • Asbestos cement fencing
  • Asbestos cement roofing
  • Asbestos (vinyl) floor tiles

Types of Asbestos Containing Materials

The two types of asbestos-containing materials are non-friable asbestos and friable asbestos.

Non-friable asbestos

This is a material that contains asbestos fibres, and such fibres may be mixed up with other components. Asbestos fibres from non-friable asbestos (bonded asbestos) may become airborne if the material is damaged or broken.

Friable asbestos

This is a product that contains asbestos that can possibly be reduced to powder form. You can also easily crumble them by hand. It is a type of asbestos that is more prone to becoming airborne. Some materials containing asbestos of the friable kind include fireproofing and insulation materials in older buildings.

Identifying Asbestos in Australian homes

Proper asbestos identification must be done before any attempt is made at asbestos removal from Australian homes. This will help you know the related risks to the removal process.

After suspecting the presence of asbestos in your home, the best recommendation is to get samples of it tested in an accredited laboratory. Inviting a licensed asbestos removalist to help you get the samples is preferable, as they are usually more experienced in doing it.

Be sure to evaluate the qualifications and credentials of the asbestos removalist you wish to use. For example, they should be accredited by relevant health institutes such as the Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists.

Some asbestos removalists work closely with reputable testing services such as Greenlight Environmental Services and can help with asbestos testing. In all cases, you should also ensure they follow regulatory guidelines for asbestos management and removal as specified by Safe Work Australia.

What Next After Identifying Asbestos In Your Home?

Apart from taking steps such as health checks for the effects of asbestos exposure, you have to take other measures. While all forms of asbestos can be carcinogenic to humans, the health risk of short-term asbestos exposure is relatively low.

Your GP may want to know details such as the type of asbestos and possible exposure levels. After that, they may do a chest X-ray if asbestos-related symptoms are present.

You can get good advice from your local council’s environmental health officer. For example, they can link you up with reliable asbestos removal companies.

Asbestos Removal and Disposal

You need an excellent long-term plan to remove asbestos safely and effectively. This is where licensed asbestos removalists play an essential role. Your licensed asbestos removalist needs to have a waste transport certificate and a waste transport permit. They also need to move the asbestos to a licensed landfill.

Dangers of Asbestos in Australia Today

Regarding asbestos safety in homes or workplaces, you should not just rely on the total ban of asbestos in 2003. Even with the complete banning of asbestos, Australia is still combating the legacy of asbestos.

In addition, the peak of asbestos production in Australia was in the 1970s, while asbestos remained one of the most common building materials in the construction and commercial industry until 1985.

The result is that both commercial and residential homes today – including in Melbourne – still have asbestos products that remain in situ. Therefore, you must consider the possible dangers of asbestos and the health risks posed by asbestos and asbestos-containing materials.

Asbestos exposure and asbestos-related diseases

One of the consequences of asbestos exposure is increased health risk. Breathing in asbestos or silica dust can lead to serious asbestos disease conditions such as lung cancer, lung inflammation, and lung scarring. Asbestos-related diseases lead to a death rate of up to 4,000 Australians each year.

These asbestos-related diseases and conditions include the following:

  • Lung cancer
  • Asbestosis
  • Mesothelioma
  • Pleural plaques
  • Asbestos-related pleural diseases
  • Dust disease

Note: Importing goods or products containing asbestos may have been banned in Australia. But you may still open yourself to the possibility of contracting an asbestos dust disease such as mesothelioma if you disturb a material that contains asbestos during activities such as home renovations.

This further emphasises the importance of verifying that no part of your home contains asbestos when building or renovating your Australian home. This helps to reduce your chances of being exposed to asbestos.

Asbestos Awareness Efforts in Australia

Exposure to asbestos fibres can be life-threatening. It is, therefore, not surprising that the use of asbestos is banned in 61 countries – Australia being one of them. Australia has also taken further steps to inform people about the dangers of asbestos. These efforts include the following:

National asbestos safety and awareness campaign

The National Asbestos Safety and Awareness Campaign is a combined effort of local and state governments and other stakeholders. It has a goal of increasing awareness of the dangers of asbestos. You can find out more about the campaign on the website.

Betty House awareness campaign

The Betty House awareness campaign is essentially a mobile home unit that provides audiovisual insight into the possible location of asbestos in Australian homes.

Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) framework

The well-known Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency Act 2013 provides a framework that makes the public more aware of the risks of being exposed to asbestos. Ultimately, ASEA contributes to the successful implementation of the Asbestos awareness and management objectives of the National Strategic Plan. The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency website also contains information about identifying and managing asbestos-containing materials.

Data on asbestos exposures

The Australian Mesothelioma Registry fully began operation on 1 January 2011. An analytical report from the registry – and the well-known Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reveals that one-third of Australian homes may have asbestos-containing products. Meanwhile, you should know that the probability that your home contains asbestos increases to a two-in-three ratio if it was built between 1950 and 1980. 

Similarly, according to data from the Australian Mesothelioma Registry and the well-known Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the number of people with a fresh diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma in Australia in the 1982 to 2016 period was as high as 16,679. Data on the average asbestos exposures also reveal the highest record to be in the insulation, shipyard, and asbestos manufacturing industries.

Getting Expert Help from Asbestos Removalists

This post has discussed asbestos in Australian homes from a Melbourne perspective and the risk of asbestos exposure in Melbourne and Australian homes. You have also read up on asbestos awareness efforts in Australia.

It is usually easier for something to go wrong if you try to deal with asbestos on your own. A professional asbestos removalist can help with asbestos management and removal if you have to deal with commercial or residential asbestos. You can also call them if you need help with asbestos management plans or suspect that a product contains asbestos.