Information & Resources

Asbestos in the home - what you need to know


Which homes are at risk?

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asbestos-roof2.jpgIn Australia, it is estimated that over 60% of all production and 90% of all consumption of asbestos fibre occurred in the asbestos cement manufacturing industry with many of these building materials still in use today. [1]

These materials were cheap, durable and were used extensively in the building industry. After World War II until 1954, in New South Wales alone, 70,000 houses were built using asbestos cement (52% of all houses built). [2] Up till the 1960s, 25% of all new housing was clad in asbestos cement in Australia. [3] In Victoria, it is estimated that 98% of homes constructed before 1976 contained asbestos products (most likely asbestos sheeting) and that 20% of all domestic roofs of that period contained asbestos. [4]

Asbestos has not been used in domestic building materials since the 1980s but it was not until 31 December, 2003 that asbestos and all products containing asbestos were banned throughout Australia. It is illegal to import, store, supply, sell, install, use or re-use these materials. The ban does not apply to asbestos installed prior to this date (e.g. asbestos in houses).

It is therefore held that if your home was built or renovated before 1990, it is likely that it contains some form of asbestos building product - most likely asbestos cement sheeting.


How can I tell if it is asbestos?

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chimney-flue2.jpgIt is very difficult to identify the presence of asbestos just by looking at it. As a general rule, certain building materials installed before the late 1980s may contain asbestos. However, the only way to be certain is to have a sample of the material analysed by a laboratory.

Contact the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) for an analytical laboratory in your area that is accredited to identify asbestos on 03 9329 1633 or by visiting www.nata.asn.au

Confirmation should be carried out before any general maintenance, renovation or demolition activities proceed.

If you do not want to go to the expense of testing to determine if asbestos is present, then the material should be treated as though it contains asbestos.


Do new building materials contain asbestos?

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No. Since 31 December, 2003, asbestos and all products containing asbestos have been banned throughout Australia. It is illegal to import, store, supply, sell, install, use or re-use these materials. The ban does not apply to asbestos installed prior to this date (e.g. asbestos in houses).

Asbestos has not been used in domestic building materials since the 1980s. Cellulose fibres are now used instead of asbestos in building materials and non-asbestos fibres, such as glass, are now used in insulation products. However, manufacturers warn that other health effects, such as skin and throat irritation, can still result from the inhalation of dust created when cutting these fibrous building products. [5]


Types of asbestos products

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There are two types of materials that were used in housing construction that contain asbestos:

  • Bonded (tightly-bound) asbestos or non-friable asbestos
  • Loosely-bound asbestos or friable asbestos

Bonded (tightly-bound) asbestos

AC-sheeting2.jpgBonded asbestos materials contain a percentage of asbestos fibres embedded in a hardened cement matrix and are the most common asbestos materials used in residential housing. These materials are commonly called ‘fibro’, ‘asbestos cement’ or ‘AC sheeting’ and can contain 10-15% of asbestos but this figure can sometimes reach up to 40%. [6] Today, cellulose fibres have replaced asbestos in fibre cement products. [7] Bonded asbestos materials are considered to be less of a risk in comparison to loosely-bound asbestos and can be handled more easily, however if the firmly-bound materials are degrading, becoming loose or falling apart, they need to be handled with extra care to prevent dust-containing asbestos fibres.


Another example of firmly-bound asbestos materials that is most commonly found in commercial, industrial and residential properties is insulating boards used for fire protection, heat and sound insulation and they are generally found in circuit boards, electrical panels, ceiling tiles, wall linings and partitions with an asbestos content of approximately 20-45%. [8]

Loosely-bound asbestos

asbestos-loose2.jpgLoosely-bound asbestos materials are not commonly found in residential properties and were primarily used in commercial and industrial settings for fire proofing, sound proofing and insulation. In most cases, glass fibres have replaced asbestos in today’s insulation products.

However, in some residential settings the loose form of asbestos fibres may be found in old domestic heaters, stoves, and hot water systems and associated hot water pipe lagging along with ceiling insulation products and in the backing of vinyl and linoleum floor coverings. This form of asbestos material can contain up to 100% asbestos and is very loose - turning to dust with light pressure. [9]

This material is considered highly dangerous as fibres become easily airborne and should only ever be handled and removed by a licensed asbestos removalist.


Where in the home?

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It is hard to identify asbestos products in the home just by looking at them. Below is a diagram and a table that show the potential locations of asbestos products in the home if your home was built or renovated before 1990.

Asbestos-House2.jpg



Places you might find asbestos products in your home [10]


 


 

Location

Materials

Bathroom, toilet and laundry

Asbestos cement sheeting used in walls, ceilings and floors

 

Hot water pipes set into masonry walls

 

Lagging on hot water pipes

Living areas

Insulation in wood heaters

 

Asbestos cement sheeting beneath heater hearths

Kitchen

Vinyl floor tiles

 

Backing to cushion vinyl flooring

 

Hot water pipes set into masonry walls

Exterior

Flat, patterned and corrugated wall and roof sheeting

 

Imitation brick cladding

 

Lining under eaves

Backyard

Garden sheds

 

Garages and carports

 

Dog kennels

Vehicles

Brake linings

 

Clutch linings

 

Adhesive products

Commercial or industrial buildings

Coating sprayed on beams for fireproofing

 

Wrap on pipes and boilers

 

Sheeting in roofs and walls

Other

Electrical meter boards

 

Ironing board covers

 

Heatproof mats

 

Trade names applied to asbestos cement products

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Below is a list of trade names for James Hardie & Co. Pty Ltd. asbestos products in Australia and the approximate year when they stopped being manufactured with asbestos fibre. Asbestos was slowly phased out and around these dates some products manufactured may have contained 3-5% asbestos. [11]

- Hardiflex 1981
- Hardiplank 1981
- Villaboard 1981
- Versilux 1982
- Harditherm 1984
- Compressed 1984
- Drain Pipe 1984
- Super Six 1985
- Highline 1985
- Shadowline 1985
- Coverline 1985
- Roofing Accessories 1985
- Pressure Pipe 1987

For a more comprehensive list of asbestos-containing products see Examples of Asbestos Containing Materials

References

[1] Leigh J. etal. 2002, Malignant Mesothelioma in Australia, 1945-2000

[2] Leigh J. etal. 2002, Malignant Mesothelioma in Australia, 1945 2000

[3] Leigh J. etal. 2002, Malignant Mesothelioma in Australia, 1945-2000

[4] ACT Asbestos Task Force, 2005, Asbestos Management in the ACT

[5] QLD Health, 2007, Asbestos: A home renovators's guide

[6] Australian Safety & Compensation Council, 2008 A literature review of Australian and overseas studies on the release of airborne asbestos fibres from building materials as a result of weathering and/or corrosion

[7] Department of Human Services Victoria, 2003, Asbestos in the home - Health and safety in the home

[8] Australian Safety & Compensation Council, 2008, A literature review of Australian and overseas studies on the release of airborne asbestos fibres from building materials as a result of weathering and/or corrosion

[9] QLD Health, 2007, Asbestos: A home renovators's guide

[10] ACT Asbestos Task Force, 2005, Asbestos Management in the ACT

[11] EnHealth, 2005, Management of Asbestos in a Non-Occupational Environment