Asbestos. The word alone is foreboding enough. If you’re renovating or selling, how do you know whether your property contains asbestos and, if it does, what should you do about it?
Asbestos was a commonly used Australian residential building material from the 1940s until the late 1980s. Despite asbestos being phased out during the 1980s and 1990s, it wasn’t officially banned until 31 December 2003.
If your home was built before the 1990s then parts of it may contain asbestos. It was used in thousands of building products, including walls, roofs and fences. The most common applications were in fibro sheeting and wet areas, before its harmful health effects became widely known.
Identifying and disposing of asbestos is a job for specialists, and should always be allocated to certified experts.
Types of asbestos
Products containing asbestos are classified as either ‘friable’ (easily crumbled) or ‘bonded’ (solid or rigid). Bonded products are also referred to as ‘non-friable’.
The vast majority of asbestos used in Australia was bonded or non-friable, which is slightly less dangerous than the friable kind. However, when bonded asbestos is damaged it can release fibres into the air, so treat it with caution. Asbestos fibres cannot be seen by the naked eye.
For the layperson, identifying asbestos isn’t always straightforward. Before you start any renovation work, review the area. If you suspect there is asbestos in or around your home, it is best to assume it is there until proven otherwise.
Don’t dislodge or break off a sample of any suspect material for identification purposes. To make a positive identification, consult a licensed asbestos assessor.
If you’re not renovating but you still suspect part of your home contains asbestos, you should look out for breakage or damage. As long as the asbestos product is whole and undamaged, it usually poses little danger. However, if the asbestos material has been dislodged or damaged, or is at risk of becoming so, you need to dispose of it quickly, responsibly and lawfully.
Because of the health risks associated with asbestos, you cannot simply throw it in the bin. That is illegal, as are dumping it, re-using it or recycling it. There are major penalties for improper disposal since incorrect disposal can potentially have serious long-term community health impacts.
The safest option for removal and disposal of asbestos is to hire a professional. It is imperative that you ensure the contractor is reputable, certified and insured. Their quote should include the costs of removal, clean-up, transport and disposal.
For more information about the legal requirements for managing household asbestos waste in NSW refer to the Environmental Planning Authority guidelines.
Thinking of Selling?
Having asbestos in your home will not prevent you from selling. As long as the asbestos remains undisturbed, it may not pose a risk. However, if you are aware there is asbestos in or around your property, you may have a responsibility to disclose certain information to potential buyers. Regulations differ between states and territories, so contact your local authority for more information or seek the advice of your solicitor or conveyancer before acting.