Asbestos was widely used in Australia for several decades and is a common buzzword to reference dangerous materials that can be found in your home. But what exactly is asbestos, why is it dangerous and do you need asbestos testing and properly executed asbestos identification for your home or office building?
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos refers to a set of six naturally occurring fibrous silicate materials. It was often used in the mid-20th century for construction in almost all residential and commercial buildings due to its insulating and heat-resistant properties. Despite medical professionals documenting its negative health effects, all the evidence was ignored and buried so that the substance could be used and profited from. Over time, as proof accumulated, asbestos went from being the ‘miracle fibre of the 20th century’ to the insidious ‘devil dust’ that devastated thousands of lives.
There are two main types of asbestos found in construction:
- Bonded (non-friable) asbestos: These are commonly found in residential buildings in the form of insulation boards placed in wall linings, partitions, and ceilings.
- Loosely bound (friable) asbestos: These are primarily found in commercial and industrial buildings for the purposes of fire and soundproofing. These are called friable as the asbestos product can be crumbled, pulverised or reduced to powder by hand pressure becoming airborne and easily inhaled.
Why Is Asbestos Considered So Dangerous?
Asbestos is best known for creating lung and respiratory problems caused by the inhalation of tiny asbestos fibres. When inhaled, these fibres settle in the lungs and result in irritations and infections. Unlike a common cold and flu where symptoms show within days of infection, effects from asbestos inhalation can develop after months, or even years, after exposure. Symptoms may start mild with difficulty breathing, chest pain, chronic and prolonged cough, reduced appetite, or difficulty swallowing. While these are not life-threatening, the overall quality of life will be significantly impacted.
If left undiagnosed and asbestos exposure continues, serious (and potentially fatal) health problems can develop. The two most common diseases related to asbestos exposure include:
- Asbestosis: This condition is characterised by scarring of the lung tissues caused by asbestos fibres that settle in the lungs and irritate normal oxygen exchange. With sufficient scarring, breathing can become difficult as the lungs will not be able to function efficiently.
- Mesothelioma: With prolonged asbestos exposure, this rare form of cancer can develop within the lungs, chest, abdomen, and heart. Symptoms often only show 20-50 years after exposure, making it difficult to prevent or treat as it is often too late.
How Can I Tell If I Have Asbestos Near Me?
It is not always possible to tell whether a material contains asbestos simply by looking at it. This is because the fibres of asbestos are so microscopic that only properly conducted asbestos tests in a NATA asbestos laboratory can conclusively determine asbestos presence. As a rule of thumb to identify asbestos-containing products, however, if your building was built:
- Before the mid-1980s, it is highly likely that it has asbestos-containing products.
- Between the mid-1980s and 1990, it is likely that it has asbestos-containing products.
- After 1990, it is possible for the building to have asbestos-containing products.
If you suspect that your home or office may be exposing you to asbestos, regardless of how minuscule the amount is, proper asbestos identification and testing is crucial. Contacting a professional Occupational Hygienist or Environmental Consultants who can assist with correctly identifying asbestos presence in your home or office building can help identify the problem and find a solution.
How Do I Safely Remove Asbestos?
While homeowners are allowed to remove bonded asbestos from their property themselves of an area no bigger than 10m² in most states, it is still required by law for these to be disposed of properly at designated disposal sites. Prior to removal, homeowners must also be informed of all necessary precautions to take and the potential health risks if removed and disposed of incorrectly. Friable asbestos, however, must always be removed by a Class A licensed asbestos removalist as the risks of asbestos becoming airborne are much higher. Either way, if you suspect asbestos needs to be removed and you have no experience doing so, it is recommended that you contact a professional that can remove asbestos safely. Also, asbestos monitoring is carried out during or prior to asbestos removal works to estimate the air quality within the work area. It is a legal requirement if friable asbestos is being removed, removed indoors or may impact the health and safety of people in the area. Occupational Hygienist or Environmental Consultants can also conduct asbestos air tests to identify if there are remaining respirable airborne fibres which are then analysed at a NATA asbestos laboratory.
Are you worried about asbestos presence in your home or office?
Alpha Environmental provides a comprehensive service covering the identification and management of asbestos during the removal of asbestos-containing materials. With our experienced team of experts and our in-house asbestos lab which is NATA accredited for asbestos fibre counting and asbestos identification, you can rest assured that you and your loved ones will be kept safe from the danger of this harmful household material.