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Asbestos was a low-cost material with good fire-retardant properties, making it a popular addition to a wide range of building materials. Homes built before the ban on asbestos are likely to include the material in some form. Old insulation, vinyl floor tiles, cement, window caulk, and some paints often contain asbestos.
Over 3000 building products contained asbestos before 1990. Homes built before this time are more likely to contain asbestos products. Here is a closer look at the use of asbestos and asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) in homes in Australia.
When Was Asbestos Used in Homes?
Homes built after 1930 and before 1990 are more likely to contain asbestos. Asbestos was a popular insulation choice for homes for many decades. It was affordable and easy to get.
Asbestos was widely used in the construction industry throughout the 20th century. Australia began importing asbestos in 1929. By the 1950s, most new homes included some form of asbestos.
Asbestos is a natural mineral with a texture and consistency that resembles cotton. The fibrous material slows heat transfer, which makes it an effective insulator. However, breathing asbestos fibres can cause adverse health effects.
Asbestos-related diseases may contribute to the deaths of 4,000 Australians per year. Asbestos exposure can scar the lungs and present other health risks. Conditions that are often linked to asbestos exposure include:
- Lung cancer
- Asbestos-related pleural disease (ARPD)
Manufacturers began gradually phasing out the use of asbestos in the 1990s. The government completely banned asbestos in 2003. However, despite the ban, asbestos is still found in older homes and buildings.
The most common sources of asbestos in homes include vermiculite insulation and asbestos pipe insulation. Vermiculite insulation is a type of loose-fill insulation. It often has a fluffy or granular texture.
Pipe insulation used in basements and furnace rooms in older homes may also contain asbestos. Asbestos pipe insulation is often off-white or grey and may resemble corrugated cardboard.
Modern cellulose insulation, loose-fill fibreglass insulation, rock wool insulation, and batt insulation rarely contain asbestos. However, some of these options may also resemble asbestos-containing materials.
Renovators, construction workers, and others in the construction industry may work around asbestos. Asbestos typically becomes more of a threat when disturbed, such as when trying to remove asbestos-containing materials.
Keep in mind that asbestos does not always pose a significant health risk. Asbestos-containing material that is in relatively good condition is often left in place unless renovations or repairs require the removal of the material.
Asbestos is more of a threat when handled, as moving hazardous materials may release small particles into the air. You should also avoid cutting or drilling into materials that you think may contain asbestos. Instead of disturbing the material, you need to verify that it contains asbestos.
How to Tell the Difference Between Cellulose and Asbestos Insulation
Asbestos was gradually replaced with other materials after the health risks were discovered. But unfortunately, asbestos is still present in some homes.
Dry cellulose offers a potentially safer alternative to asbestos. Loose-fill insulation is a type of dry cellulose that is blown into wall cavities and attics to improve the insulative and fire-resistant properties of a building.
There are different types of cellulose insulation, but most varieties are made with a combination of materials. A cellulose mix may contain cardboard, newspaper, straw, and hemp. However, it closely resembles asbestos insulation.
Anyone at risk of asbestos exposure should complete an asbestos awareness course. An asbestos awareness course explains the types of materials that are most likely to contain asbestos. After identifying a material that may contain asbestos, you must have it tested to confirm the presence of asbestos.
Additional training is required to be involved in the removal process. A licensed asbestos assessor is used to verify the presence of the material. A licensed asbestos removalist is necessary for the removal of the material.
How to Test for Asbestos
Verifying the presence of asbestos requires testing, as asbestos is not easily identified based solely on its appearance. You need to understand the types of materials that are most likely to contain asbestos. You can then test the material using an asbestos testing kit.
An asbestos testing kit requires you to send a sample to an accredited testing laboratory. Scientific testing is required to confirm the presence of asbestos. However, homeowners and amateur renovators should consider hiring a professional testing company or a licensed asbestos assessor to complete the testing.
A licensed assessor can inspect a property and provide a report. The assessor also tests the samples, monitors the air for asbestos fibres, and performs a clearance inspection after the removal of the material.
Using an outside source for testing limits your exposure to the material. If the test results determine that the material contains asbestos, you must follow the Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act requirements for asbestos removal.
A licensed asbestos removalist is needed to remove any amount of friable asbestos and more than 10 square metres of non-friable asbestos. Non-friable asbestos includes bonded materials that are less likely to break apart and release dust particles when disturbed. On the other hand, materials containing friable asbestos crush easily and create more of a health hazard.
Asbestos was widely used in homes in Australia from the 1930s until the late 1980s. In 2003 Australia completely banned it.
After Australia banned asbestos, it was largely replaced by cellulose and other less-harmful materials. Dry cellulose closely resembles asbestos, increasing the challenge of detecting asbestos. You should never disturb material that may contain asbestos until you have it tested.
An asbestos assessor can complete the testing and assessment. A removalist can direct the removal of harmful material. If you want to learn more about the asbestos removal process, consider taking an asbestos removal course.
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