Asbestos is a term for a group of six naturally occurring mineral fibres belonging to two groups:
- Serpentine Group – comprised of only chrysotile (white asbestos)
- Amphibole Group – comprised of anthophyllite, amosite (brown asbestos or grey asbestos), crocidolite (blue asbestos), tremolite, and actinolite.
Asbestos was long viewed as one of the most versatile minerals because of its flexibility, tensile strength, insulation from heat and electricity, chemical inertness and affordability.
The versatility of asbestos made it attractive to many industries and is thought to have more than 3000 applications worldwide. Australia was one of the highest users per capita in the world up until the mid-1980s. Approximately one third of all homes built in Australia contain asbestos products. The widespread use of asbestos has left a deadly legacy of asbestos material due to asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.
Asbestos containing materials (ACMs) can be categorised as friable and non-friable. Non-friable asbestos, where it is mixed with other materials like cement, is the type most commonly found in our built environment. Friable asbestos is more likely to become airborne. Both friable and non-friable asbestos pose a significant health risk to all workers and others if the materials are not properly maintained or removed carefully. In the built environment, potential health risks are posed where there is:
- the presence of ambient levels of asbestos
- weathering of ACMs
- the presence of damaged ACMs
- building and/or maintenance work involving ACMs and
- demolition and/or removal of ACMs.
The risk of exposure from the built environment is broad, with the potential to impact the entire Australian community.
The use of ACMs in the home has been extensive and there are many areas in the home where ACMs can be found including (but not limited to):
- roof sheeting and capping
- gables, eaves/soffitswater pipes and flues
- wall sheeting (flat or a weatherboard style
- vinyl sheet flooring
- carpet and tile underlays
- zelemite backing boards to the switchboards
- flexible building boards
- imitation brick cladding
- carports and sheds
- waterproof membrane
- telecommunications pits
- some window putty
- expansion joints
- packing under beams
- concrete formwork
Regulation 4B of the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 now also references the current legislation covering the safe removal of asbestos.
Additional information can be found on the following websites: