Nowadays, when we hear ‘asbestos’, we immediately think of the risk it poses to human health. Up until the 1980s, however, asbestos was synonymous with cheap, easy and fire-resistant insulation, which is why so many buildings in Australia contain it in some form. Today, we’ll look at why asbestos is dangerous, what you can do if you suspect that is has been used in your strata property, and what your next steps should be once asbestos has been identified on your property.
The health risks of asbestos
Asbestos is not always harmful – it poses the biggest risk when it has been damaged or weathered, is being used in building works or being removed, as all these processes increase the likelihood of the sharp asbestos fibres getting into people’s lungs.
The most common asbestos-related diseases are connected to the lung – asbestosis (chronic scarring and inflammation of the lungs), pleural mesothelioma (a type of lung cancer), and other forms of lung cancer. They are most commonly found in former asbestos workers, but even minimal exposure to asbestos fibres has shown to have a harmful effect on humans and animals, so there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.
How to identify asbestos in your strata property
If your building is from before the mid-1980s, it is very likely that it contains asbestos because of how widely it was used in Australia. Likely locations for asbestos in a building are the fibro sheeting in walls and ceilings, the water drainage pipes, roofing shingles and gutters, the carpet underlay and loose-fill insulation in the roof cavity.
Most asbestos (especially that used in loose-fill insulation) cannot be identified by eye, although you can find some sample photos in the gallery of the Australian Asbestos Awareness website. If you are concerned that your strata property contains asbestos, Fair Trading NSW recommends that the owners corporation or strata manager arranges for a licenced asbestos assessor to conduct testing at the site.
Furthermore, the Heads of Asbestos Coordination Authorities (HACA) is currently conducting independent investigations into loose-fill asbestos in NSW and providing free ceiling insulation testing to certain homes. If your home has been built before 1980, you may contact SafeWork to see if you are eligible to have your property tested and assessed for asbestos.
If asbestos has been identified in your property, it’s essential that you use a licensed professional removalist, as it can be a dangerous and delicate process.
Furthermore, any loose or crumbly asbestos must be removed by a licenced asbestos removalist. If you are planning on removing asbestos from your strata property, it is absolutely essential that you get approval from the owners committee and clearly demarcate the area in which you will be working. The Asbestos Awareness website has a very helpful page for things to keep in mind if you choose to go the DIY route.