Clear and present danger: Asbestos exposed

Most houses built before 1990 are likely to contain some asbestos. It was a building product
used widely back then because it was durable, fire resistant and a good insulator. Now,
of course, it’s banned from use. Exposed asbestos fibres are a known health
risk, but not something where you’ll see an immediate effect.
But don’t panic most asbestos, if it is well-maintained and coated with paint or sealant,
is unlikely to be a problem and the fibres are usually tightly bound together in cement
or some other material. It’s only when you or someone else disturbs
asbestos, through cutting, drilling, sanding, water blasting, or removing asbestos panels,
that the fibres are at risk of becoming airborne and pose a higher risk to you and your family
if they’re breathed in. This means if you have plumbers, electricians,
tilers, painters or the like visiting your house to complete work or if you’re doing
your own home renovations, it’s important to know where it could be.
So where are some places you might find asbestos lurking in your home?
Hopefully, Louie will be able to help answer that question.
Louie’s a former tradie who’s now a Workplace Health and Safety Queensland inspector.

he doesn’t know about asbestos isn’t worth knowing!
He’s visiting Lauren today to show her where she might find asbestos in her home and provide
some hot tips on how to best manage it. Hey Louie…
How are you today? How are you
Good thanks… Thanks for coming over
No Problems So this is the house
We just recently bought this place so we’re really excited to get into renovating but
got a feeling there might be some asbestos lurking around though, so we haven’t gone
too crazy yet. But we’d really appreciate your opinion.
Sure. Typically for a house built like this before 1990, the rule of thumb is treat whatever
you see here as possibly asbestos. And already straight up, I can see some fibro sheeting
up on your gables. Also your gables at the front here. And also your soffits or eaves. Asbestos products can be found in many places
in a home, a typical home, starting from the roof down and the exterior.

You’ve got your
roof. You’ve got your gutters , your downpipes. You’ve got your barging on the end . Your
gable ends. Exterior sheeting on the walls. Insulated doors sometimes came out
with it packed with insulation. If there’s asbestos up there, is that going
to be a risk? As long as the fibro sheeting is well maintained,
and sealed, it’s no risk to anyone. I guess, at the end of the day, if you start disturbing
it, cutting it, drilling it, that’s when it becomes a risk to you.
Ok, well we do want to do some renovations so I’ll bring you inside and you can have
a look. Ok, look forward to it! Most of the people that are most likely to contract an asbestos-related disease now would
be tradies.

The builders, carpenters, electricians, because
they're often drilling into things, to put wiring through, or plumbing the pipes, or
they're demolishing houses that they may not have recognised contain asbestos.
People doing roof repairs. People can even be exposed to asbestos fibres
hosing off their roofs, gurney-ing or high pressure washing.
Well it’s not just the tradies that are at risk here, it’s the home renovator. The
do-it-yourselfer. The person who may not be able to afford to bring a tradie in, quite
handy themselves, want to do a little home project. They’ll take on the work and quite
often who helps dad out with the work, could be even the kids. And that’s why we’re very concerned to make sure that people that are working with asbestos,
first of all, they recognise it, and secondly, they take the proper precautions. Welcome to my home! Lovely!
I’ll show you this little room first. This is my study. Got a lot
of great ideas for this little spot so I’d really like your opinion as to where you think there's anything I need to be concerned about here.

Yeah, I reckon just coz of the age of the
house and just looking at the dimple effect on your wall sheeting here and the protruding
nail, that’s typical of an older type asbestos. And also your ceilings are the same so …
Yeah I can see the nails up on the roof there. But like anything you do get it tested before
you do any work on it but I’d be treating it as if it were asbestos, definitely by that
look there.

Other than that it’s all sealed, so it’s safe the way it is, it’s only
when you’ve disturbed it, have you disturbed the asbestos in any way?
One of the things my husband and I did when we moved in was we put in a whole lot of picture
hooks, on that little picture frame over there was one of the first things we put up and
we sort of went a little crazy I guess and put them up everywhere. Is that something
I need to be worried about, have we inadvertently exposed ourselves in any way with that?
Just keep in mind that drilling into asbestos, there is a degree of risk.

It’s a one off
exposure so the degree of risk is very minimal but please keep in mind that there is procedures
for drilling asbestos. The kind of asbestos dust that is harmful
to health, is, of a particle size that you won't see with the naked eye.
When you're working with asbestos materials, if you're wanting to drill it, or sand it
you run the risk of creating quite a lot of fibres, thousands and thousands, maybe hundreds
of thousands of fibres.

And those are dispersed into the air around, where the workers are
working. Asbestos fibres cause a problem in the lung
because they're long and thin, they're easily inhaled, and they're hard to clear from the
lung. And although our bodies can cope with a certain
amount of fibres, there comes a point when your lung can't cope with too much asbestos.
Ah, small one-off exposure, our lungs can deal with. There are three main diseases that asbestos causes. One is Asbestosis, which is the scarring of the lung tissue, and that prevents oxygen
being absorbed through the lung and into the bloodstream. The second more serious one is
Asbestos Related Lung Cancer. And the third and most serious disease is
Mesothelioma, and that's the cancer of the lining of the lung.
Despite 20, 30 years of research, we still don't have good treatments for it, and the
average life expectancy is still measured in months, rather than years.
We should treat asbestos with caution.

We shouldn't be afraid of it. But we also shouldn't
ignore the risk. Louie one of the things I want to do is just
get rid of this wall, and like open up this space, is that something that my husband and
I can do ourselves? Even if you wanted to remove that one sheet there, the same precautions are applicable,
so it’s gotta be done by the book, the same risks apply. If I was an owner of a home or a property
and I wanted to renovate or demolish or alter in some way, shape or form, I would get some
advice… and have the property inspected by a trained professional. They will identify
the areas where it will exist and then that can be recorded. We can even put stickers
and notify people that there’s asbestos on the property.

And you quite often will
find them in electrical boxes or inside linen closets or under the sink in kitchens, where
a person or a tradesperson may normally go to conduct their work. That gives the tradies
or somebody coming to the property an opportunity to identify that there is asbestos on the
property before they disturb it. So Louis, this is the master bedroom and one
of the things I want to do in this room, is do some kind of cool feature wall. Maybe a
really nice wallpaper here. Is this wall the same as the other wall in the study?
What I’m looking at here is the flat walls as such.

There’s no joins in it like the
other room, can’t see any dimple, dimple look and just the feel of it, it actually
feels like gyprock and also your gyprock cornice up here and possibly
your gyprock ceiling as well. So to me, this has gone through a recent renovation. I’d
probably get an electrician in, just to pull those points off, get a sample behind those
points just to confirm it is asbestos free Hopefully it’s asbestos free because then
I can get stuck into this room straight away. Umm, in through here it’s a bit of a funny
room. I can see straight up, by some of the sheeting here with the exposed nails and the dimple
on some of the sheeting I can see…

That once again, just like the first room we looked
at, it would most probably contain asbestos. The same with your ceilings as well.
I noticed also the soffit sheeting, that’s typical of a fibro asbestos type sheeting.
I can see all the holes are actually sealed with paint so there’s no real issue to you
unless there’s going to be new holes drilled but I can see over here straight up you’ve
got some cracking and that’s just from bowing and stretching over the years. Those cracks
are actually sealed with paint so there’s no risk to yourself but if that was a fresh
crack well of course you’d definitely get that sealed, with paint. Ok, I wanna show you this funny patch down the end of the room, what do you think about that? My thoughts straight up is definitely.

Like you got your vinyl on top and that’s your
underlay and that’s typical of your 70s type vinyl that the underlay contained asbestos
in that part here. And there’s a high concentration of asbestos in there, probably 70 to 80 percent
of the crisotile asbestos in there. So with that type of product there, if we were going
to remove it by stripping it, you’d need a licensed asbestos removalist, to remove
that there.

Even that tiny little patch?
Definitely, don’t put yourself at risk. We can take a sample just to confirm that
as well. Ok…This is the bathroom. Again this is a
sort of funny room for me because the walls are like a Melamine sort of material
With this lammy type panel sheeting, that is asbestos free.
Same with this ceiling, however, what’s behind it, I don’t know, at the moment here,
the way it is, it’s definitely safe. But if you go through another reno, just be aware
of what could be behind the sheeting. Also in cupboards, there’s also surprises.
A lot of times when you do renovations, a lot of people just leave that cupboard area
as is so Can you see the timber? That’s an MDF type
timber sheeting which contains no asbestos. But I don’t know what’s behind that wall
of sheeting so just take precautions there.

This is the other Lino situation I guess.
I really want to rip it up, it’s ugly. But again, we weren’t really sure if it was
something that we should be doing straight away. What are your thoughts? If you don't mind me pulling this strip up?
No that’s fine. As you can see there’s this one
layer of vinyl here, and pulling it straight up, it’s like a rubber back. So, out of
all the samples that I’ve taken of this type of vinyl, they generally come back asbestos free. But, as you can see, underneath, we’ve got another layer of vinyl and also the underlay
and any of those two could possibly contain asbestos. So, the precaution being, treat
that as asbestos, or get a sample taken of it.
that’s a really good tip because just by looking at it, if I’d assumed that it was
ok, I would’ve just ripped it up not thinking there would be other layers underneath
If after the asbestos removal project is over and you find that there’s some asbestos
dust or suspicious dust left over.

One has to be careful too in the cleanup that you
don’t just use any old vacuum cleaner. A household vacuum cleaner isn’t designed
for cleaning up hazardous materials, especially asbestos.
Don’t sweep it either. That’ll only create more dust and it’ll spread throughout the
house. Get some disposable rags, wet them down and wet-wipe it up. And don’t forget,
dispose of the rags as contaminated waste. Hey Louie, I wanna show you our outdoor fencing
through here.

Is this something we need to be concerned about?
Ah, definitely Lauren, this is a profile called super 6. Super 6 can pit because it’s not
sealed so with hail, rain, wind, sun, over time it starts to deteriorate and delaminate
so at the end of the day, it is a good thing to seal it.
Well, that’s good because we’ve actually sealed from the outside as well so I can show
you that. What about this little bit here? A truck actually
backed into this. It totally wasn’t me but is that something I need to be worried about?
There is some bare fibres that are exposed. The best thing you can do here Lauren is paint
over that whole area, and that seals it… Asbestos roofs, Super-6 roofing as they call
it, and fences are a particular high risk they’ve been subject to the elements over
many years. You get a gurney or borrow a gurney for the weekend or rent one for the weekend and you
start blasting off the roof… The sand and cement that bonds the asbestos
fibres within it have been washed out so now you’ve got loose

Then fibres are being spread all over the
neighbourhood . Well Lauren, here’s some more, and what
this is here is just some fibro packing and because of the age of the building, we’d
have to suspect some asbestos as well, but having a look at it as you can see it’s
all sealed…. It’s all very daunting, having so much asbestos
in my home. There’s no need to be worried, everything
we’ve looked at, is sealed and safe, there’s no risks of exposure of asbestos fibres into
the air. There is one thing we will look at is that lino which I’ll take a sample away
for analysis, and I’ll get back to you on that but everything we’ve looked at today
is fine I see people working on properties, doing
renovations, little projects.

I see people not taking the precautions. Not
having the appropriate PPE. Using power tools, angle grinders. I’ve even seen people doing
interior strip-outs of homes and throwing the stuff on the front lawn for the kids to
clean up or whatever later. No matter whether you’re a homeowner doing
a do-it-yourself project or a tradie, if you’re doing any renovations on a property that has
asbestos or you suspect has asbestos, you’ve got to take precautions.
I don’t think too many people take it serious until they actually know somebody they’ve
lost or it affects themselves. That is all too late.
It may only take a couple of minutes now to drill a hole or knock out a wall, but really,
is the risk worth it? The safest way to manage asbestos is knowing
where it’s located. If you’re removing it then get a licensed
professional to do the job, or if it’s minor maintenance, then make sure you or the contractor
in your house is using safe work procedures and the right equipment.
Definitely don’t break up asbestos sheets and keep it wet down and wrapped in thick
plastic until it can be safely disposed of.

you don’t want it to affect the health
of your own family or that of your neighbours. Disposing of asbestos correctly is really
important too. The first port of call should be to contact your local council for advice.
If you’re concerned about work completed by a contractor on asbestos at your place,
then contact Workplace Health and Safety Queensland for more help.
Often it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie…. If asbestos doesn’t need to be disturbed,
then don’t touch it. Visit the Queensland Government website for
more information:

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