Author: Claire Bell
During much of the 20th century, asbestos was considered a wonder-product. It helped improve the performance of many building materials. However, these benefits mean that it can be found in many Australian homes where it poses a silent and potentially deadly risk - especially to the handy do-it-yourselfer.
Would you know how to identify it? And would you know what to do if you found it in your house?
Asbestos is a silicate mineral that occurs naturally in the environment. It appears as tiny fibres that, on its own and is not visible to the naked eye. It is these tiny fibres that can cause sickness when inhaled.
Before the mid-80s, asbestos fibres were added to many building materials because it helped strengthen and improve insulation and heat-resistant properties.
There are two types of asbestos. The first is non-friable, which refers to products that are made up of asbestos fibres bonded with cement, vinyl, resin or other similar material. Non-friable products account for 97% of asbestos products, and as such are the products you will most likely encounter during home maintenance and renovation projects. These products are also known under names such as fibro, super six, bonded asbestos, asbestos cement sheets or AC sheeting and can be found in wall cladding (interior and exterior), roofing, eaves, fences, vinyl floor tiles, carpet underlay, kitchen splashback, thermal boards around fireplaces, backing of electrical boards and water or flue pipes.
The second type is friable asbestos. Friable is less common, but more hazardous as the fibres are not encased in a bonded form. This means the dangerous fibres are easily released into the air and inhaled. Examples of friable asbestos include spray-on insulation or soundproofing, asbestos-rope door gaskets in wood stoves, insulation on hot water pipes, domestic heaters and stoves (lagging), backing material on floor tiles and vinyl flooring, heat-resistant fabrics, badly damaged or weathered non-friable asbestos cement products and textured or decorative paints and ceiling coatings.
There are some standard guidelines that can help you determine whether your house would contain some building products that have asbestos fibres in them. These guidelines are based on the years asbestos products were manufactured and the age of your home. As a general rule, if your house was built:
The Asbestos Awareness website has a gallery of images to help you identify where asbestos may be lurking around the house.
It's important that the handy person around your home is aware of the risks posed by asbestos and takes suitable caution before knocking down walls or removing insulation.
You can also play the Bestville game that helps provide quick and simple answers to your asbestos questions. How many points can you score?
This article does not constitute legal or professional advise. We strongly advise contacting a licenses building professional before handling materials that could contain asbestos. Information for this article was taken from the Asbestos Awareness and Asbestos Answers websites.
Claire is Planet Ark's Recycling Campaign Manager. After working in the communications industry and raising a young family, she joined Planet Ark to follow her passion for helping the environment.
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