Greenlight on 3AW

We were lucky enough to talk to Darren James on 3AW recently about all things asbestos.

Darren’s son is renovating his home and unfortunately came across some asbestos in the process.

We discussed this, and answered some asbestos questions from Darren and his callers.

Listen or check out the transcript below:

Part One of our chat on 3AW with Darren James
Part Two of our chat on 3AW with Darren James


Interview participants: Darren James (DJ) & Michael Tierney (Greenlight) (MT)

DJ: So, the story so far, my son and his girlfriend are doing a new bathroom, and they ripped the schiesen hausen out of the old one and along came the flooring guy. And to level the floor and to get it all prepared for the laying of the.. I think they are getting timber or something, anyway, what happened, he got to the kitchen and said “tools down”, “what?”, “there’s asbestos on the floor”.

So the floor guy said, I know a good asbestos guy. So MJ called him and he was out in Springvale South, and he said “I’ll need to see a bit of the product to analyse whether it is in fact asbestos”.

So, a bit was gathered up very carefully, with gloves and masks, and put in a paper bag. Then myself on my motor scooter drove to Springvale South – gee that’s a drive during peak hour too, let me tell you. In the dark – but I made it. And him and I looked at it, and he said “yeah, that’s asbestos”. And he got one of his mates, the following day, at 8am, because they had to stick to the schedule because the kitchen is being done early next week. And once there’s an issue that delays the process like this, there’s panic – no wonder I went to Springvale in the dark.

This is all new to me, I’ve got an asbestos expert – Michael Tierney, Director of Greenlight Environmental Services joining us.

Michael, good morning to you.

MT: Good morning, such a pleasure, thank you for having us on the show.

DJ: Absolutely Michael. Now, that’s a story you probably hear all the time isn’t it?

MT: Unfortunately, yes, and look we often walk into these situations, where people have got us out to do an asbestos inspection, which is what we do. But they’re halfway through their renovations, they have already started laying into things, and we have to investigate from that point. But, you know at that point, the horse has bolted. What I want to convey today is really, that you need to put this kind of investigation first.

You need to get in there and understand where all your asbestos materials are before you start work.

DJ: Now, this was a very thing layer in the kitchen only, underneath what they had on the floor, which was sort of like a floating floor. There had obviously been something else there, and they put down another floating floor which was removed, and it was, there seemed to be, a little bit of screed, it was all uneven, there was all sorts of stuff, and then under that there was this very thin sheet of asbestos. What was that doing there in the first place, do you reckon?

MT: Yeah, so they used asbestos as an underlining material just to level out some of or whatever the overlying material was. And we quite often find layers and layers of floor material when we go into places because there has been this renovation done or that renovation done on top of the other and they don’t often or they don’t always strip out the old materials before they lay the new ones. So, it’s important to get or if there is an proper investigation done, where you dig right down and find out what all the layers are before you start ripping up your flooring.

DJ: Yep. It was the last thing they expected. Where else can you find asbestos apart from under the floor like that? Where is it likely to end up being?

MT: Yeah, great question. So, there’s the main product that was used for asbestos, which was cement sheeting. So, cement sheeting is used in wet areas, so you can find it in places like laundries, it might be the walls and ceiling. It can be behind any tile, so in your bathroom, it could be behind the ceramic tiles on the walls or the ceramic tiles in the kitchen. Or if you’ve got ceramic tiles on the floor, then under there.

It can also be the cladding to the whole house, sometimes asbestos.

DJ: Gee

MT: that can happen and definitely older garages out the back you can find that they are clad in asbestos. And the roof, can contain asbestos, especially on those old garages. And the main other place I suppose is the vinyl flooring material, it can be vinyl floor tiles or seamless vinyl floor cover, which has like a fibrous asbestos backing material.

DJ: Yeah

MT: So that can have asbestos in it, and that’s quite dangerous, if that’s there. So, you need to treat that very carefully.

DJ: Yeah

MT: And other than that, you’ve got flues above hot water systems, and yeah, they are the main areas. I guess the other place to point out is the electrical box because that quite often has got a lining material that’s asbestos. And it can have asbestos in the electrical backing board, as well as the insulation.

DJ: Hey, we’ve got prue that’s called through with a question for you Michael. Prue, good morning to you.

Prue: Good morning. We have, well it’s more of a statement than a question – my husband and I, we renovate houses and we always buy old ones and dilapidated ones. We have a young independent girl as the first thing that goes in and does a test on the eaves and the timber and anything that looks a bit suss and the more we do it, it’s quite amazing, the uh, where you find it, you know? It’s quite tricky and I’m pretty sure we used the same Kim to come in and remove it from Springvale – fantastic company.

DJ: Oh, Kim of Springvale South? I was out the front of his house and I Just know him as Kim of Springvale South, oh Prue, it’s a hysterical story – and you’ll love this too Michael. So, I’ve rolled up there on my motorbike, parked out the front and there’s a big high fence and I’ve pressed this doorbell and this dog made the loudest bark I’ve ever heard in my life and I thought, oh please Kim come out before the dog is let loose, you know. And I couldn’t see the dog but gee it was the biggest bark I’ve ever heard. Well, Kim I hear this yell out, I’ll be there in a tick. So next minute the door opens and Kim’s there and I look down. There’s this dog there with one of those just been to the vet lamp shades around his neck and it was a sausage dog.

It was the smallest dog you’ve ever seen Prue. But I digress, thanks for the call Prue. Michael, we’ll be back with you in a tick, I’ve got some more questions for you if that’s ok.

MT: Absolutely, thank you.

DJ: I’m talking to Kim, not Kim, I’m talking to Michael Tierney, the Director of Greenlight Environmental Services. 

Maybe you’ve got a question yourself about asbestos, that ‘s what we’re talking about today.

Part Two:

DJ: I’m talking to Michael Tierney, director of Greenlight Environmental Services, we’re talking about asbestos.

How do you recognise it? How do you realise it is, when I was with Kim, he got out a torch and was looking at the sample I had, through the plastic. And he said there was white asbestos there, and like little flecks of light that were reflecting, specks that were reflecting, is that right?

MT: Yeah, so look, an experienced person can probably recognise some asbestos products by looking at them. However, I think the only really way to recognise where the asbestos is in your home is to have an experienced person come in and do an inspection, and collect samples as needed, and provide you with a report.

There’s some materials that we can look at and say yes, that’s asbestos.

DJ: Right

MT: They usually will have small bundled white fibres sort of poking out of the cement sheet matrix, that’s an indicator to look for. But my advice would be to not try to visually assess it. Unless you’re going to err on the side of caution, and say yes that’s asbestos. But to get it tested before you take any action.

DJ: Yeah for sure. So, I did the right thing. I was treating this stuff like kryptonite to superman. I thought I had some hazardous stuff that was going to kill me in five minutes on board. But, how dangerous is it?

MT: Yeah, look, that’s a really great question. I think people do really over worry about asbestos a lot, however, it is quite dangerous, so I need to sort of balance what I say there.

DJ: Yeah

MT: So, asbestos is dangerous under the circumstances of you doing something to it, like drilling, grinding, sanding, water blasting, or demolition works.

DJ: Right.

MT: Under those circumstances, products like cement sheeting are quite dangerous because they can kick up asbestos fibres into the air, while doing those activities. It’s when you breath it in and it gets into your lungs, that’s what creates the risk.  

DJ: Yeah

MT: However, if you’re holding a piece of asbestos in a plastic bag, like you were, there’s no danger at all.

DJ: Right.

MT: I usually get two kinds of people that call us up. You know, there’s the person that’s over worried, and I need to kind of talk them down from their worry. Or I get the person that’s not worried at all and I need to kind of convey that you need to worry a bit.

DJ: Yeah, that’s right.

MT: But, yeah, so you’ve got to really balance your views there, I think. Especially with the amount of information on the internet about it. It’s, it can be, people over worry about it. 

DJ: John has called through with a question. Hi John, how are you doing?

John: Yeah, good thank you. My question is, the house next door has got an asbestos roof I’m pretty sure. It looks asbestos. It’s corrugated, it’s white and thick. Would that.. and it’s about 40 or 50 years old, so uh, I believe it is. And uh, someone has recently bought it and they wanted to paint the roof, so they hired someone and they went up there with a jet washer, like a guerney, and he was powering the dirt off and stuff was going everywhere.

DJ: Did I hear you just say that’s not good Michael?

MT: Yeah so, I said that’s not good, that’s really not good. Because it was flying into the air. Yeah, so water blasting asbestos such as your neighbour did is an illegal act. It’s considered to be a pollution incident by the EPA and it’s one of the most dangerous things you can do to asbestos.

And he very likely contaminated, I’m sorry to say this, I know it might be, this might be shocking news to you, but he very likely contaminated the surrounding area, including your backyard with that activity.

I’ve been on sites where that has happened and there’s been insurance companies involved and the remediations are quite costly and expensive. And if I was in your position I would be contacting my local council. As a first step and seeking their advice and other agencies you could contact are the EPA and WorkSafe Victoria.

DJ: So it might pay you John, as Michael just said that that doesn’t sound good, your place could have been contaminated with fibres that have been blasted off the roof into his joint.

MT: Yeah that’s right, so they settle on…the fibres blast up into the air and can just settle onto the grass or whatever is in the vicinity and yeah, projects I’ve been involved with, where that kind of thing has happened have contaminated the surrounding properties and its been quite a costly clean up actually.

DJ: Oh yeah, absolutely. And one quick one before we go Michael. Is there a date where we know you’re in a building that will not have asbestos? Like that they stopped using it in 1983, like for instance?

MT: Yeah, absolutely. So, in two thousand and…the end of 2003, they banned Australia-wide, the use or importation of asbestos. So I’d probably point to that year, and I know that people might think that that might sound a bit late compared to what they think. But that’s the year where you can start to rule it out as a rule of thumb.

However, I would just temper that by saying that sometimes new builds are built on top of contaminated sites, so there might be residual old building materials present. But yeah, the asbestos eradication agency says that if it’s pre 1980 it is highly likely that your home contains asbestos. And if it’s post 1990s, then it’s unlikely but not impossible.

DJ: Yeah, I see. Good rule of thumb. And uh, one final question too. Where do you put it? Where does it go when you remove it?

MT: Yeah, yeah, great question. So, there’s very strict laws around the removal of asbestos and so, you have to engage a licensed asbestos removalist and they will basically take it to a tip that accepts asbestos waste. And they just, basically, they just put it into the ground. But they do it under controlled conditions, and they seal it up as they go, and that’s where it will stay for a long time.

But asbestos doesn’t spread through the soil. It’s been shown that if it’s kept under conditions, it will basically stay there in very a stable condition, as long as we manage it. So that’s fine. There’s not much else we can do with it, to be honest.

DJ: Exactly. Michael Tierney, thanks for joining us, you are from Greenlight Environmental Services. Checkout – you’re our go-to asbestos man, if that’s ok, from now on Michael. Thanks for joining us and great discussion and we’ll talk again.

MT: Thank you so much, take care.

DJ: Take care.

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