Get Asbestos Aware your health depends on it?

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You should be Asbestos Aware wherever you Live in Australia

??Every week we get asbestos situations that highlight and make you wonder what needs to happen to make people more Asbestos Aware.  Yes all too often we get situations where someone has put some fibrous board material in a skip bin thinking that it was safe and nothing to worry about.  The only problem is that is diametrically opposite to how such materials are treated by landfills and tips around the country. The prevailing thinking in the waste industry is that if it looks like asbestos then assume that it is, until proven otherwise by experts who are prepared to sign their name to it.

What is Asbestos

Asbestos is a natural occuring silicate material that is found as fibrous crystals. There are six different categories of naturally occuring asbestos, all of them are made up of long thin fibrous crystals. All types of asbestos are dangerous, some more than others. The problem with asbestos is that small asbestos fibre can be inhaled when they are airbourne. Once in the lungs the fibres cause scarring and other damage to the lungs. The six types of asbestos that belong to two mineral famalies of asbestos which are:

  • Serpentine asbestos is recognisable by its curly fibers that combine to make up sheets of crystals. This type of asbestos accounts for about 95% of asbestos used around the world which is predominantly:

    • Chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos)

  • Amphibole asbestos' have needle like fibers that make these materials more dangerous and likely to cause cancer:

    • Crocidolite asbestos (blue asbestos)

    • Amosite asbestos (brown asbestos)

  • Non commercial amphibole asbestos':

    • Anthophyllite asbestos

    • Chrysotile asbestos

    • Tremolite asbestos

Types of Asbestos based materials

Asbestos containing materials falls into two categories that are:

  • Friable asbestos - is the most dangerous form of asbestos as it can be crumbled or pulverised into a powder from just hand pressures

  • Non-Friable asbestos - is still dangerous although a lower risk. Non-friable asbestos is mixed with a hard bonding material like cement or other similar materials. Non-friable is less likely to crumble under just hand pressure but fibres can be release when broken, drilled or ground.

Where does Asbestos occur in Australia Today?

There are a surprising broad range of asbestos containing products that have been used extensively historically. These include:

  • Asbestos construction products like asbestos cladding (both internal and external), asbestos corrugated roof sheets, corrugated asbestos fencing panels (all of these are esentially asbestos cement products i.e. they are construction materials that have been created using asbestos fibres to give the matarials tensile strength from using the asbestos fibres.

  • Floor tiles in the past were manufactured using asbestos materials

  • Automotive Parts including brake pads, clutches, hood liners, gaskets and valves are still manufactured in some ares using asbestos materials. When in use these components still carry a risk for people who have to work with them. So mechanics might be exposed to asbestos dust when replacing brakes.

  • Asbestos Insulation for fireproofing as well as insultaion. Asbestos was used as asbestos pipe insulation in commercial buildings like hospitals and office blocks.

  • Natually occuring asbestos is also a potential risk whether in the natural environment or in old asbestos mining areas. Asbestos mines in Australia have been closed down but it is still possible to get exposure to asbestos if you enter these sites.

Asbestos related diseases

Asbestos related diseases result from exposure to asbestos dust or asbestos fibres that are inhaled. The asbestos fibres thewn become lodged in the throat or lining of the lungs which then causes many of the diseases. Once exposed to asbestos it might then take ten or twenty years before asbestos related diseases become evident. Asbestos related lung disease are:

  • Asbestosis isn't a cancer. Asbestosis is a progressive and chronic disease caused by the inhalation of the asbestos fibres over a prolonged period. The fibres cause scarring (fibrosis) that reduces the efficiency of the lungs and causing difficulty breathing.

  • Lung Cancer can be caused by asbestos

  • Pleural disorders (plaques and thickening) are similaiar in the the asbestos causes the thickening of the pleura tissue that lines the chest cavity and covers the surface of the lungs. The thickening of the pleura reduces the capacity of the lungs

  • Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that effects the mesothelial cells which cover your internal organs. Australia has the highest rate of mesothelioma in the world due to the extensive use of asbestos in Australia's building industry. Malignant mesothelioma has no cure and at best speacialists can only help to manage side effects to improve the quality of their patients remaining life.

Asbestos exposure risks in Australia

The biggest risk of exposure to asbestos material comes in the form of the asbestos that is already installed or used in building homes or commercial buildings. These building are potential death traps for thos people who are not asbestos aware. Occupational safety is important for buillders or trades-people working on renovation projects on buildings built before the 1990s. The environmental protection agency in most states and territories didn't ban the use of asbestos in buildings until the 1980s and the builders continued to use asbestos products they already had in stock for many years even though they posed health risks.

Avoid Creating Asbestos Dust

It is important to avoid exposure to asbestos to avoid inhaling asbestos fibres. This might be as simple as never drilling your walls if you live in a house that has asbestos lined walls. Drilling into the asbestos walls will create asbestos dust that will become airbourne and which could be inhaled by accident, all too easily.

If you see asbestos workers you with notice that they will be covered head to toe to minimise the risk of them becoming contaminated with asbestos fibers.

In many old Australian home asbestos contaminated material abound not only in the walls or roofs, but also above ceilings where asbestos dust has settles from the asbestos roof sheets. In the roof space the dust will already be asbestos contaminated. Asbestos workers often reduce the risk from such asbestos disk by spraying it with a clue solutions so it is stuck the the ceiling boards and does not become airbourne when taken down.

Is Asbestos Still Used Today?

Generally asbestos is not used today as it was in the past. The problem is though that it is already installed in houses that were built pre the 1980s. This "hidden" asbestos can pose an occupational asbestos exposure risk which is why it is important for builders and their client to be asbestos aware.

Asbestos cement sheeting was often used in wet areas of a home so may be lurking behind the walls in your kitchen or bathroom. Whenever you are renovating older homes built before the 1990's great care should be taken to confirm what is any asbestos materials were used.

How to Identify Asbestos Products

Asbestos is often hard to identify as it can look very simmilar to other building materials. The best rule of thumb is that if you are not sure about whether some cement sheeting includes asbestos, then assume that it does and take all the necessary precautions to minimises asbestos exposure health risks.

Asbestos cement sheeting often have a golf ball like dimple pattern on one side of it. When broken asbestos cement sheeting will often have little white of grey/blue fibres exposed. Newer cement fibre building materials that have cellulose instead of asbestos should have printed information on them stating they don't included asbestos. Again if you find cement sheeting without clear labeling then assume it contains asbestos.

Asbestos Cover-Ups and Surprises

Sadly to say many people underestimate the risk of asbestos as toxic substances. They can often think it will be easy to hide asbestos contaminated material by putting it in the bottom a skip bin or wrapping it in a roll of carpet. Some home renovators sem oblivious to the risks and just put broken asbestos products in with their rubbish. Also we have also founf that even master builders don't understand asbestos products the risks involved. We have had instances where they have left unwrapped piles of asbestos in the yard for a home owner to deal with. We have also had situations where builders have told home owners that asbestos products are not asbestos because they have not worked with it.

  • Authored By:Steve Shergold
  • Updated:04/06/2023