Asbestos is a mineral that occurs naturally as tiny fibres and has always been part of discussions in homes when one talked about the manufacturing and construction industry in Australia. It was a material that for the years between the 1930s and the 1990s was highly favoured because of its many beneficial properties, its durability, and strength, as well as its affordability.
Asbestos fibres produce toxic dust that caused health concerns for people who were heavily exposed to it, and this led to its downfall in manufacturing and affordable residential construction in the 1990s.
Asbestos consists of tiny silicate fibres. Asbestos material, when disturbed, produces dust that releases these fibres and causes them to be airborne. A person exposed to these airborne fibres or inhaling them can develop many health concerns, not limited to pleural plaques, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.
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In the year 2003, Australia finally got around to banning its use, and its buying, selling, importing, and manufacturing. Even so, many asbestos materials remain in place in domestic, public, and occupational capacities. As a nation, Australia now faces the risks associated with existing asbestos, with asbestos associations predicting that Australians face the third wave of asbestos exposure, from the disturbance of ageing asbestos materials that even now exist in their homes and buildings.
ASBESTOS IN THE HOME
The peak use of asbestos was made between the years 1940 to 1980. It was during this period that Australians had the highest per capita consumption of asbestos. It was a material that was widely used for the manufacturing of homes and other household materials and products.
At this time the question of safety in living in a house with asbestos was never posed. Its popularity led to the fact that even today, a thirty-three per cent of homes in Australia contain asbestos in some form or the other.
The popularity of asbestos came from its natural and inherent ability to retard fire and provide insulation. This resulted in its being used for a lot of things in homes, for constructing their walls, ceilings, and roofs, n the form of blocks, for insulation, use as pipes, fencing and even stove gaskets. Most homes constructed before 1990 still have asbestos materials in some form or the other. People are now becoming more aware of the hazards associated with asbestos, and now question the safety of living in a house with asbestos in it.
The condition of the asbestos material in a home will be a factor in deciding whether living in it is safe or not. There is no safe limit for asbestos exposure, but even so, many of these asbestos-containing materials are not an immediate threat. It depends more on the condition and type of any asbestos product.
FRIABLE ASBESTOS – IS IT SAFE
The question of the safety of living in a house with asbestos requires understanding that there are two types of asbestos, and the type you have will determine its level of hazard.
The first type is friable asbestos. These materials are soft and loose and can crumble into fine dust even with the lightest pressure. These materials may be 100 per cent asbestos and being loosely held together can easily lead to its fibres being released in the air.
Most of these products that had friable asbestos were in common use as insulation or were used for soundproofing or fireproofing. Mr Fluffy asbestos installed in The New South Wales Region lead to massive controversies in their respective governments. Friable asbestos products commonly found in homes include:
- Loose-fill asbestos as insulation
- Fibreboard made of low-density asbestos
- Insulating use on stoves, heaters, and water pipes
- Carpet underlay
- As part of ceiling coatings and textured paints
- Insulation and sound-proofing that is sprayed on
- As backing for floor tiles
- Heat resistant fabrics
- Asbestos in the form of rope, as door gaskets in wood stoves
- Deteriorating or asbestos products that are badly damaged
Essentially, asbestos is in its most hazardous form when it is friable and the materials are loose. If the asbestos materials in a home are friable, then there is serious doubt about the question of safety in living in a house with asbestos.