Asbestos is costing the country an estimated $11.2 million a year in clean-up costs and thousands of Aussies their lives.
Despite being banned, it’s still embedded in around one in three homes across the nation. Roofing, tiles and even some dog houses could be riddled with the substance, the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) warns.
Even if you have a new residence and workplace you’re not necessarily in the clear. Approximately 6.4 million tonnes of asbestos remains across Australia, of which 6000 tonnes are illegally dumped each year, creating a potentially deadly health hazard for any unsuspecting passerby.
Does my house have asbestos?
Homes of particular concern are those built before 1990, and an outright ban on the use, transport and supply of all six types of asbestos came into effect in December 2003.
Despite this, most other countries in the Asia-Pacific region still use the substance, so importing materials continues to be a risk. Australian Border Force warns even imported products labelled asbestos-free could still contain low levels. It’s list of over 40 at-risk products includes gloves, clutch linings, crayons, gas masks, tiles, fire curtains, cement pipes, and string.
Australia’s Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency suggests a number of key areas where homeowners could expect to find asbestos:
Exterior: roof, gutters, pipes, brick cladding, electrical switchboard backing
Living areas: walls, carpet underlay, insulation, heaters, roof insulation
Kitchen and bathroom: flooring, splashbacks, ceiling panels, stove insulation
Backyard: buried in yard, dog kennel, sheds, outdoor toilets
What should I do if I think my house has asbestos?
Approximately 4000 Australians die each year from asbestos-related diseases, which the NSW government warns is twice the annual road toll.
Illnesses include asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestos-related pleural diseases. Many symptoms do not appear until 20 or 30 years after exposure.
Today marks the beginning of National Asbestos Awareness Week, and NATA is reminding homeowners not to cut corners when disposing of the substance.
NATA is advising Australians that if they are “in doubt” about any area in their home, they should get it tested.
Its sector manager for life sciences Neil Shepherd told Yahoo News Australia the key message this year is "don't take any chances" when handling asbestos.
"It's known to be damaging to health," he said. "You really need to be confident in what you're doing, so if you're not sure, seek the advice of an expert."
Climate change increasing risk of asbestos exposure
A number of studies show that when left undisturbed, asbestos does not pose a "significant health risk" and there are small quantities always present in the environment.
"It's when you started to disturb it you've got a problem, or if something happens like a fire, tornado, hurricane, or adverse weather that damages the building," Mr Shepherd said. "Or if somebody comes along and does some ill-advised renovations."
In Australia, natural disasters are becoming more frequent and severe due to climate change and flood and fire-damaged homes can pose a risk.
"If you look at the bushfires we had in the last couple of years, there was definitely a lot of impact on asbestos buildings," Mr Shepherd said. "The more severe the weather, the more opportunities there are to damage this material."
If you have safety concerns about your home or workplace, a list of agencies in each state and territory can be found here.
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