A naturally occurring mineral made up of tiny fibres, asbestos is very much a household name when discussing Australia’s construction and manufacturing history. Asbestos was a material favoured for years for its durability, strength, and multitude of beneficial properties including affordability between the 1930s and 1990s.
Asbestos quickly became the downfall of affordable residential construction and manufacturing in the 1990s – the fibres were producing toxic dust, which was directly related to growing health concerns of those who had been heavily exposed to the material.
Asbestos is made up of tiny silicate fibres. When disturbed, asbestos materials may produce dust that releases asbestos fibres and allows them to become airborne. Exposure to or inhalation of these fibres is directly linked to a range of health concerns including asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer and pleural plaques.
Australia finally placed a ban on the use, selling, buying, manufacturing and importing of asbestos materials in 2003. However, many asbestos materials and products remain in place in occupational, public, and domestic capacities. The problem we now face as a nation is the risks of existing asbestos; asbestos organisations predict we are amidst the third wave of asbestos exposure from disturbing existing ageing asbestos materials.
Asbestos in The Home
Asbestos was in its peak between the 1940s and the late 1980s. During this period, Australia was responsible for some of the highest consumptions of asbestos per capita. Asbestos was most commonly used for the construction and manufacturing of homes and household products and materials.
At the time, the question of “is it safe to live in an asbestos house?” was never posed. It wasn’t until the 1980s that people started to become aware of the dangers of asbestos. The material was so popular that today, approximately one-third of all Australian homes contain asbestos in some form or another.
Asbestos was particularly popular for its ability to insulate and act as a fire retardant. As such, it was used for anything and everything – from residential construction of walls, ceilings, roofing materials, cement blocks, insulation, pipes, fencing, and stove gaskets. The majority of homes built before 1990 will still contain asbestos materials in some form. The increasing awareness of asbestos and its hazardous nature means that more people are posing the question: is it safe to live in an asbestos house?
Whether or not it is safe to live with asbestos in your house depends on the asbestos materials and their condition. While there is no “safe” amount of exposure to asbestos fibres, many asbestos-containing materials will not pose an immediate threat. It all depends on the type of asbestos product, and what condition it is in.
Are Friable Asbestos Materials Safe?
If you’re asking yourself, “Is It Safe to Live in an Asbestos House?” You’ve first got to understand that there are two types of asbestos, and that will determine the level of hazard of the materials.
The first type of asbestos is friable asbestos. Friable materials are generally quite soft, loose and can be crumbled into fine material or dust with very light pressure. Such products usually contain high levels of asbestos (up to 100%), which are loosely held together and could easily release the fibres into the air.
Friable asbestos products were most commonly used for fireproofing, soundproofing and insulation. This includes the notorious installation of Mr Fluffy asbestos in the Canberra and New South Whales region in which sparked a massive controversy with the ACT and NSW government. The most common friable asbestos products found in the home include:
- Loose-fill asbestos insulation
- Low-density asbestos fibreboard
- Insulation on hot water pipes, heaters, stoves
- Carpet Underlay
- Textured paints & ceiling coatings
- Spray-on insulation or soundproofing
- Backing materials on floor tiles
- Heat resistant fabrics
- Asbestos rope door gaskets in wood stoves
- Badly damaged or deteriorating asbestos cement products
In essence, friable is the most hazardous form of asbestos as the materials are loose, and the fibres can easily become airborne. So, if you’re asking, “Is it safe to live in an asbestos house?” the answer is no – it is not safe if the materials are classed as friable.
Are Non-Friable Asbestos Materials Safe
Non-friable asbestos, or bonded asbestos, refers to materials that are made from a bonding compound like cement. Mixed in with a small proportion of asbestos (usually less than 15%), bonded asbestos products are solid, rigid, and will not release asbestos fibres into the air as they are tightly bound.
Given non-friable asbestos materials are tightly held, they do not pose the same threat as friable materials to human health. However, if non-friable asbestos products become disturbed, damaged, deteriorated or broken, they can release toxic fibres into the air and become friable.
The presence of asbestos in homes does not necessarily mean the house is unsafe. Asbestos does not pose a threat unless the asbestos materials are broken, damaged, loose or disturbed in any way. Where friable asbestos makes for an unsafe living environment, non-friable asbestos products will not release any hazardous fibres as long as they remain in good condition and undisturbed.
The most common non-friable asbestos products can be found in asbestos cement sheeting, and include:
- Cement roofing
- Shingles and siding
- Exterior and interior wall cladding
- Thermal boarding
- Water or flue pipes
When in good condition, bonded and non-friable asbestos materials are not dangerous as they will not release any asbestos fibres into the air. However, if they become damaged or badly weathered, areas may become friable.
Is It Safe to Live with Asbestos in Your House?
If the asbestos materials are non-friable, in good condition, and do not pose a threat of becoming damaged and friable, the answer to the question “is it safe to live with asbestos in your house?” is yes. However, living on a property that contains asbestos does come with some responsibilities.
If you suspect your house contains asbestos, it will need to be evaluated by an asbestos technician to determine the level of hazard. Furthermore, proper assessment of asbestos-containing materials is required to determine whether or not they pose a future risk. Households can easily be exposed to asbestos during normal wear and tear, minor household maintenance or disturbance, during any renovations, or natural disaster.
In essence, it is not safe to live on a property with asbestos if you do not intend to take responsibility for the materials. If asbestos materials are friable, they require immediate removal and remediation by an asbestos professional. If asbestos materials are non-friable, they will need to be assessed and closely monitored, safely encapsulated, or pre-emptively removed to avoid future asbestos exposure.
Rely on The Professionals
If you’re currently residing on a property with suspected asbestos, the best course of action is the get it tested and removed. If you know the suspected material was installed prior to 1990, it is safest to assume it does contain asbestos. Even if the asbestos materials are determined to be non-friable and non-hazardous today, it is not worth the risk of putting your health and family’s health in potential danger in the future.
Professional asbestos removal and abatement mean relying on a team of experts who are extensively trained, experienced, and qualified to remove, dispose of, and remediate asbestos-contaminated areas safely. With over 20 years in the industry, GBAR Group is the leading experts in asbestos removal and hazardous material management. We have the qualifications and skill to manage this work safely, without risk to you or your neighbours. Get in touch today to learn more about how we can keep your house safe.