Asbestos is a naturally occurring silicate mineral made up of tiny fibres. It is strong and heat resistant, which is why it was commonly used in a number of building products, such as roofing, cement sheeting, pipes, insulation, electrical fittings, floor tiles and other building materials.
As a guide, houses built before the mid-1980s are highly likely to have asbestos containing products, those built between the mid-1980s and 1990 may have asbestos containing products and houses built after 1990 are unlikely to have asbestos containing products.
The presence of asbestos in home building materials generally does not pose a health risk unless the material is broken, deteriorating or disturbed in such a way that airborne asbestos fibres are produced. There is potential for this to occur when asbestos containing material is being broken, or when it is being drilled, sanded or cut with a power tool.
Asbestos only poses a risk to health when asbestos fibres are breathed in. Asbestos related health risks include, malignant diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma and non-malignant diseases such as asbestosis, pleural plaques and pleural thickening.
When working with asbestos in the home it is important to take precautions to reduce the risks to a very low level. It is difficult to identify asbestos material and the only way to be certain, is to have a sample tested by an accredited laboratory. If the material is not tested, it should be treated as though it contains asbestos. While householders may legally remove asbestos from their property, it is recommended that they consult a professional removalist who has a WorkCover licence. WorkSafe Victoria maintains a list of licensed asbestos removalists.
If you want to remove asbestos from your property yourself, safe practices are detailed in Asbestos in the home, from the department of health.
The Environmental Protection Authority of Victoria has generated a map of Victorian landfills that are licensed to receive asbestos containing material.
Local government Environmental Health officers can assist you with enquires or complaints about the removal or disposal of asbestos in your neighbourhood.
Further information contact:
WorkSafe Victoria1800 136 089 for information about asbestos in the workplace and to locate a licensed asbestos removalist
Environment Protection Authority (EPA) Victoria (03) 9695 2722 for enquiries about correct disposal of asbestos-containing materials
National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) 1800 621 666 for details of an accredited laboratory in your area where asbestos can be identified