Asbestos Identification, When to Have Asbestos Testing and Other Common Questions

Asbestos Identification

Throughout your life, you have probably heard about asbestos in old buildings and the dangers of exposure. However, a lot of people are uninformed about asbestos identification, when they may be exposed, what to do if you suspect exposure, and where to get asbestos testing. Today we are going to be answering many common questions people have regarding the substance. What is asbestos? When was it banned in Australia? Can a mask protect you from asbestos? and when to have an Asbestos audit? Alpha Environmental has recently begun operating a NATA (National Association of Testing Authorities) accredited asbestos laboratory. Therefore, we can now provide faster delivery on asbestos testing in conjunction with our Asbestos and Hazardous Materials Audits (Division 5 and Division 6) and a variety of other services for identification and monitoring of your residential or commercial establishment.

Before we get into the details of why asbestos identification and asbestos testing are so important for your Melbourne business or home, it’s important to explain what it is.

What is asbestos?

Classed as a silicate ‘mineral composed of flexible fibres that are resistant to heat, electricity and corrosion,’ there is evidence of the material being used for centuries to strengthen objects and buildings. However, by the mid-late 20th century, it began being phased out of buildings globally, due to scientists discovering the deadly and potentially lethal effects that can occur by inhaling the fibres. Due to the minuscule size of the fibres, ’50-200 times thinner than a human hair’(Cancer Council), they can be easily dispersed and inhaled during the asbestos handling process and become embedded in the lungs and body; ‘increasing (cancer) risk of the lung, ovary and larynx.’ The detrimental health effects of asbestos may not be visible for decades after exposure, causing slow deterioration over time.

When was asbestos banned in Australia?

Prior to the ban in Australia, asbestos was ‘found in 3000 building materials (NSW Government)’ across the country. A phasing out of asbestos materials was instituted in the 1980’s, with the final mining operations ending in 1983. A total ban on the asbestos supply, use, manufacturing, importing and storage was implemented twenty years later in 2003 after the gradual phasing out of the substance across the prior two decades. However, buildings developed before the ban may still contain asbestos products if they have not been properly audited. If you are living or working in an older building and it has not been audited, it is worth contacting an Environmental Consultant or Occupational Hygienist for the health and safety of yourself, family, visitors, or work colleagues.

Where is asbestos found in the house?

Asbestos was used for building materials and can be potentially found in flooring, walls, ceilings, and roofs. It is usually mixed with other materials such as concrete to improve structural integrity and provide insulation, heat resistance etc.

How do you know if you have asbestos?

The microscopic size of individual asbestos fibres makes them impossible to individually spot with a naked eye. If you are searching for the substance around the house, it will appear in a variety of different forms depending on the materials it has been integrated with. Asbestos has no naturally occurring taste or smell. To an untrained individual, it is almost impossible to detect. Hiring an Environmental Consultant or Occupational Hygienist is your best course of action for asbestos identification and asbestos testing.

Asbestos sample

When trying to figure out whether your house or building contains asbestos, this rough guide should provide some help. If your building was built/ renovated:

  • 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.

Can a mask protect you from asbestos?

Unfortunately, due to the incredibly fine particulate nature of asbestos fibres, most masks that we have become accustomed to over the covid-19 pandemic are not appropriate for dealing with asbestos. This includes N-95 respirator masks, which are used in trade settings. The Australian government recommends using specific respirators designed for asbestos handling. A minimum P2 half-face respirator mask that complies with Australian Standard AS1716.

When to contact an Environmental Consultant or Occupational Hygienist?

Renovating or demolishing a building, and you are unsure of any historical asbestos use? Contacting an Environmental Consultant or Occupational Hygienist is essential for asbestos identification and asbestos testing. Particulates and fibres are at their most dangerous when they are dispersed during renovation, demolition or when a building is damaged. It is important that during this process all asbestos is handled with safety precautions, correct PPE and safety regulations to prevent long term damage.

If your house was built or renovated before 1990, there is a likelihood of materials containing asbestos within the building. If you are living in a building and are concerned about exposure or are working on an older building site, it is important to identify any hazardous materials and asbestos with an Environmental Consultant or Occupational Hygienist.

Our team at Alpha Environmental can provide thorough asbestos sampling, identification, testing and monitoring with our new NATA asbestos laboratory. If you have any concerns or queries, get in contact with us and we can provide you with more information.