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Common Myths and Misconceptions About Asbestos

pile of asbestos materials removed from building

There’s a lot of information out there about asbestos, some of it true, and some of it very untrue and incorrect.

We’ve decided to put some of this misinformation to bed, so we’ve put together some of the misconceptions and myths we commonly hear about asbestos in this line of work.

If you want to understand more about the truth of asbestos, keep reading.

Before we jump into myth-busting mode though, let’s talk a little bit about what asbestos is.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a fibrous silicate mineral that is naturally occurring and found in rock formations.

It’s a very lightweight material that also happens to be insulative, heat resistant, flexible, and incredibly strong. These qualities made it a highly sought-after material in a variety of industries, especially the building and construction industry.

Asbestos was used to build homes and buildings all over the world, including right here in Australia. Asbestos was used by itself or mixed in with other materials, such as adhesives to create building products, like cement sheeting, cement moulded products and insulation.

The versatility of asbestos meant that it could be found in materials that were used all over the home, both internally and externally.

It was mostly used in the Australian building industry between the late 1940s and the early 1990s, though, any home or building that was constructed up until December 31st, 2003, could potentially contain asbestos materials.

The awareness of the dangers of asbestos started to surface in the late 1970s/early 1980s and the usage of asbestos in building materials was phased out from the late 1980s onwards, though asbestos usage wasn’t entirely banned until the end of 2003.

 Why was asbestos banned?

Asbestos is now known to have extremely detrimental effects on the health of those who had worked or been exposed to it. However, it wasn’t until the late 1970s/early 1980s that the awareness of the dangers of asbestos were more widely understood.

This partially due to the fact that most of the asbestos related illnesses – mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis (more on these later) – have a long latency period and do not show symptoms until long after the asbestos exposure had actually happened. For some people, symptoms did not show until 20 to 30 years after the exposure.

Once the knowledge of these illnesses was more widespread and understood, steps were taken to phase out and ban the use of asbestos in any form in Australia.

But did you know that asbestos is still being used in some countries around the world?

So, now that you have a bit of a background of asbestos, let’s bust some myths!

5 Myths About Asbestos

Myth One: Asbestos Has Been Removed from All Homes and Buildings in Australia

Unfortunately, this is false.

Australia’s asbestos legacy is ongoing and will be for some time.

Though it’s been banned for almost two decades, it was commonly used for more than double that amount of time in Australia.

Australia also happened to be one of the most prolific users of asbestos in the world – in fact, 1 in every 3 homes in Australia is thought to contain asbestos in one form or another.

While asbestos might be present in many homes or buildings, it’s not always a danger – but more on this later.

Myth Two: It’s easy to tell if a home or building has asbestos in it

This is also false – though possibly not for everyone.

In order to identify building materials that might contain asbestos or asbestos itself, you need to have knowledge and understanding of asbestos and the building industry. So, if you have worked in the construction industry for a very long time, or you’re an occupational hygiene specialist, the likelihood of you being able to easily identify asbestos is unlikely.

In addition to this, asbestos fibres are not usually visible by the naked eye, unless there is a pile of them all together. So, if asbestos has become friable and/or airborne, you are unlikely to know, unless your property is being air monitored and tested for asbestos.

Myth Three: Living in a house with asbestos is too dangerous and it needs to be removed immediately

Sometimes true, sometimes false.

When it comes to the presence of asbestos in a home or building, there are two things that must be considered:

  • The condition of the asbestos
  • Your intentions/plans in the house

The asbestos fibres are what pose the risk to your health, so when these are intact and undisturbed it doesn’t pose a risk to you. If you get your home inspected for asbestos, the asbestos assessor will be able to report the condition of any asbestos in your home.

The condition of asbestos is usually classified as either friable or non-friable, with friable asbestos meaning that when this asbestos is dry, it is easily able to be crushed, crumbled, broken down, or pulverised using little pressure. Non-friable, also known as bonded asbestos, is when the asbestos fibres have been mixed with other materials, usually adhesives, to make solid, rigid materials.

If your home contains friable asbestos materials, then this would need to be removed from the home, to avoid easy disturbance. Non-friable asbestos is usually safe in the home, unless it is showing signs of deterioration, or you plan to renovate or perform any sort of work that may disturb it, like sanding, water blasting, drilling, cutting, polishing, and many others.

So, when we say your intentions or plans for your home, we mean if you’re planning renovations or any sort of maintenance that might mean you would disturb the asbestos materials in your home – even the non-friable ones, then these do pose a risk to your health, and should be removed.

If you are not planning any renovations, demolition or maintenance of your home that would disturb the asbestos materials in your home, then you can quite happily live with them in your home. However, once they are identified, it is important to ensure they are monitored on a regular basis.

Myth Four: The Dangerous of Asbestos are Highly Exaggerated

False!

While a little scepticism in general is healthy every now and then, when it comes to the health risks and dangers associated with asbestos, we advise against being sceptical or foolish here.

Asbestos exposure can have very serious consequences to your health. While we acknowledge that once off exposure is unlikely to lead to any major health concerns, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Asbestos exposure has been linked to several incurable illnesses:

  • Mesothelioma – this is a rare form of cancer and affects the tissue that lines the body cavities. In Australia, the vast majority of mesothelioma cases have been linked to someone having had a history of asbestos exposure.
  • Lung Cancer – asbestos is only one of the various causes of lung cancer. Lung cancer causes cancerous tumours in the lining of the tubes that lead to lungs, which can result in blocking the airways of the lungs.
  • Asbestosis – this is a chronic condition which is caused by prolonged and heavy exposure to asbestos. It causes inflammation and scarring of the lungs which results in permanent lung damage.

Each of these illnesses are not only incurable, but also highly uncomfortable and can be very debilitating for the sufferer.

While the development of these illnesses is only likely to occur from prolonged or excessive exposure to asbestos, part of the danger is the fact that it is very difficult to identify asbestos, especially when it is airborne, meaning you may be unknowingly inhaling asbestos fibres if you decide to renovate a home without having it tested for asbestos first.

Myth Five: You Can Remove Asbestos from Your Home Yourself

True and False.

Asbestos removal in some circumstances can be performed by you, but only under certain circumstances.

If you want to remove asbestos from your home, you can only remove non-friable (bonded) asbestos that is less than 10 square metres in total. While this may cover some people, often if your home contains asbestos materials, it’s likely to contain more than that.

Otherwise, it is illegal for you to remove asbestos from your home yourself unless you have a licence to do so. There are two kinds of asbestos removal licenses:

  • Class A – means you can remove any amount of friable or non-friable asbestos
  • Class B means that you can remove any non-friable or bonded asbestos material, but no friable asbestos materials.

The disposal of asbestos materials has to be done so very carefully as well, with it only being able to be disposed of in licenced landfills.

Given the rules, restrictions, complications, and health risks associated with asbestos removal, DIY removal just isn’t really worth it.

When it comes to Asbestos it pays to be safe

If you’re worried about the presence of asbestos in your home, the first step to take is to work with a professional who can confidently identify its presence and condition. That way you know the next steps to take.

Here at Greenlight, we offer a variety of asbestos related services all over Melbourne and Victoria including asbestos inspections, testing, reporting and air monitoring services. Work with us today to help you identify and manage your asbestos risk today.

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