Asbestos lurks in more places than you think

It’s not just those who work in the construction industry who need to beware of exposure to asbestos. In you are renovating, maintaining or carrying out alterations on a property built before 1990, you need to be aware of the hidden dangers of asbestos.

Despite asbestos use being banned since 2003, about one-third of Australian homes still contain asbestos products. It was used in more than 3,000 common building materials before it was banned, and these can be found in homes and gardens across Queensland.

An estimated 4,000 Australians die each year from asbestos-related disease which is double the annual road toll.

Third wave exposure, which is largely associated with do-it-yourself renovators represented one in every three new cases of mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer, diagnosed in Australia in 2017. There is no known safe minimum level of exposure. Asbestos fibres are about 200 times thinner than a human hair and can be easily inhaled or swallowed once they’re airborne. They lodge themselves into the membrane outside your lungs and abdomen and your immune system is unable to expel them.

In May 2019, the QBCC engaged marketing firm Colmar Brunton to conduct market research into owner builders and their level of awareness and attitude towards asbestos. The survey found that owner builders were mostly aware that asbestos was dangerous but locating where asbestos could be lurking was still a mystery.

Seventy-two per cent of owner builder respondents had done some sort of renovation work to a 1940-1990 residence, with 81 per cent of those having conducted some of the work themselves.

Sixty-six per cent of those who had completed work had to remove asbestos. Of these, 31 per cent chose to remove it themselves, with 64 per cent using a professional.

Nearly half of owner builders were not confident in their ability to identify materials that could possibly contain asbestos.

More than 90 per cent of owner builders surveyed were aware that asbestos may be in ceilings, roofs and walls in older homes. Respondents were less aware that asbestos could be lurking in places such as splashbacks in wet areas, insulation, vinyl and carpet underlay, lining behind wall tiles, imitation brick cladding, fencing, sheds, gutters, fuse boxes, joints and concrete formwork.

You can test your asbestos knowledge by identifying where asbestos containing materials could be lurking in and outside the home.

How do I know whether something contains asbestos?

You can’t tell if a material contains asbestos just by looking at it, but if you think you’ll need to disturb or remove asbestos as part of your reno, you should get a sample of the material tested. A list of licensed asbestos removers can be found at Worksafe Queensland’s website.

For more information on where asbestos could be lurking see the asbestos product gallery.