Asbestos fencing, roofing and guttering amongst other asbestos containing materials (ACM) was a popular building product used prior to 1985, when it was banned for use in the building and construction industry. Although into the 1990’s it was still in use by a few rouge operators. Asbestos products of all sorts were used for their light weight, strength, durability, relatively cheap and fire proof qualities. In fact it was called the product with a thousand uses.
Australia was one of the biggest consumers of Asbestos building products per capita in the world. It wasn’t until the deadly effects of exposure to asbestos fibres became evident that a total ban on it’s use was made law in Australia. So where does that leave us now? Are asbestos products that are still in our homes safe? What are our options? What are our obligations in respect to rental properties? Before we answer these questions we need to understand the makeup of asbestos building products.
Microscopic asbestos fibres were clumped together and mixed through a cement base where they provided strength, flexibility and durability. Most asbestos building products contain between 4% and 20% asbestos the rest of the product is the cement compound. There are some other asbestos building products that are almost pure asbestos, we will cover that another time as today we are focusing on asbestos fencing, roofs, down pipes and guttering.
The risk with asbestos containing materials is the stability or friability of the product. If an asbestos containing material is in good condition and well maintained there is little or no chance of fibres being released (there are no 100% guarantees in life). However, unpainted and poorly maintained asbestos containing materials will continually degrade and release deadly asbestos fibres. There are plenty of facts regarding the mortality rate of asbestos related disease on fair work Australia government web site. In essence there is no cure for any asbestos related disease.
In summary, asbestos is banned totally for use in Australian building products. Asbestos containing materials cannot be repaired only removed by a licensed contractor. It is illegal to import, sell, store, supply or reuse asbestos products in Australia. The risk to our health with asbestos comes from the release of deadly asbestos fibres in our lungs causing asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer amongst others. Once asbestos is removed and the site decontaminated the risk is removed.
Most of the asbestos used in Australia in the building industry has been around since the 1940’s and the 1950’s and if they have been untreated all of this time and been exposed to the harsh Australian climate you can expect that it is no longer in it’s best condition and the risk of fibre release is accelerated with each new weather event. Even having an asbestos fence or roof that has plants and trees rubbing up against it can release fibres on a windy day. As the substrate breaks down more and more fibres are released.
So what does it look like? Well let’s see, here are some photos of asbestos roofs, gutters, fences and down pipes in poor condition that have been acted on by trees and the elements.
This white scuffing on the surface of the asbestos fence is due to winds causing the shrub to rub the fence and release asbestos fibres.
Although the tree has been cut back you can still see the untreated roof is scuffed and fibres have been released.
This image clearly shows the exposed fibres on the end of the asbestos roofing. If you were to clean out this gutter with traditional methods by scooping out the asbestos containing sludge with our hands. You would be at great risk.
So where to now? Once the asbestos containing material is in this condition the only safe way to remove the immediate danger permanently and cost effectively is to have them professionally removed by a licensed, fully trained contractor and have the areas decontaminated in accordance with the code of practice “how to remove asbestos safely 2011”. Once the asbestos is removed from site correctly the danger is removed permanently.