Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Asbestos

If you’re a homeowner (or even the owner of a factory or industrial site), it is important to know what asbestos is, whether it is present in your home, and what precautions you should take when renovating or doing repairs.

Keep in mind that removing asbestos is a complicated, dangerous job. Asbestos should only be removed by licensed, registered professionals who have completed all relevant safety training. So, if you’re ever in doubt when it comes to asbestos, call in the professionals, like ACR Roofing.

The History of Asbestos

Until the mid-1980s, asbestos was a common ingredient in a range of building materials. If your house was built or renovated before 1987, it is highly likely that there is asbestos somewhere in your home.

Asbestos was considered to be one of the most versatile building materials, due mainly to its flexibility, tensile strength, chemical inertness, affordability, and its ability to provide extensive insulation from heat, erosion, decay, and electricity.

It was the innate versatility of asbestos that made it attractive to many industries throughout the world. In fact, it is estimated that asbestos has been used for more than 3,000 applications across the globe. And, up until the mid-1980s, Australia was one of the countries with the highest users-per-capita rate in the world. Between 1930 and 1983, more than 1.5 million tonnes of asbestos were imported into Australia, on top of the asbestos that we were already mining ourselves. Today, it is estimated that one third of all houses in Australia still contain asbestos.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring fibrous silicate mineral. It becomes a health risk only when the asbestos fibres become airborne and are breathed in.

Asbestos is categorised as either friable or non-friable:

  • Non-friable (or bonded) asbestos: this type of asbestos occurs when asbestos is mixed with other materials (like cement) that bond the two together. Bonded asbestos cannot be crumbled, pulverised or reduced to a powder easily when it is dry. Non-friable asbestos is the type of asbestos most commonly found within our built environment, and most likely to be present in your home. Common uses for non-friable asbestos in building materials include: fibro sheeting; compressed asbestos cement sheets; floor tiles; and drainage, water, and flue pipes. Keep in mind that if non-friable asbestos is damaged (through things like fire, hail, or activities that directly pierce its surface like water blasting and drilling), it may turn into friable asbestos.
  • Friable asbestos: this is any material that contains asbestos, and is in the form of a powder or can be crumbled, pulverised or reduced to powder when it is dry. This type of asbestos was not commonly used to construct houses. It was mainly used in industrial applications such as pipe lagging, and in the manufacture of asbestos cloth and ropes. Only a licenced asbestos removalist can remove friable asbestos.

The Dangers of Asbestos

Unfortunately, there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos fibres. If asbestos is disturbed, it can release dangerous fine particles of dust that contain asbestos fibres. Breathing in these fibres can case a number of serious diseases, including asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma (a type of cancer that forms in the lining of the lung for which there is no known cure).

The risk of contracting asbestos related diseases increases with the number of fibres inhaled and the length of time for which you inhaled the asbestos fibres.

Symptoms of asbestos related diseases do not usually appear until at least 20 to 30 years after the first exposure to asbestos, with the average time between exposure and diagnosis around 45 years.

Tips on How to Spot Asbestos

It can be very difficult to spot asbestos just by looking at it. So, if you’re ever in doubt, call in a professional asbestos removalist. A few things to keep an eye out for when it comes to spotting asbestos include:

  • Age: if your house, or structure was built in in the 1950s, 1960s, or 1970s, then the change of asbestos building materials having been used is fairly high.
  • Fasteners and joins: most structures that use asbestos include battens that cover up the joins between the sheets. Theses are usually fastened in place with a nail that does not have a point (the idea being to punch a hole through the sheet and reduce the chances of the sheet breaking). Aluminium was often used as joining material on external walls, and wooden batten on internal walls.
  • Dimples: asbestos fibro sheeting often has a distinctive dimpled or honeycomb-effect pattern on the back.

Safety Tips for Asbestos Around the Home

Even with our tips for spotting asbestos, it can be quite difficult to tell whether building materials contain asbestos just by looking at them. So, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. When working in and around your home or renovating, if in doubt, assume you are dealing with asbestos and take every precaution. If you’re not sure, don’t cut, drill, sand, saw, scrape, scrub, water blast, drop, or demolish anything that you suspect could be asbestos, particularly friable asbestos.

When it comes to roofs constructed from asbestos cement sheeting, if the sheets are in sound condition and not disturbed, they usually don’t pose a significant health risk. However, if your roofing is weathered, structural unsound, or no longer waterproof, then it should be replaced by a licensed asbestos removalist. Roofs constructed from asbestos cement sheeting can be very brittle, making them easy to fall through. So, we suggest never walking on an asbestos roof.

Above all, we recommend that you always retain a licensed, professional asbestos removal company that is fully equipped to protect you and your family from the dangers of asbestos dust.

ACR Roofing offers a range of asbestos removal and replacement services.

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