What are the health risks associated with asbestos?
Significant health risks may arise from the inhalation of airborne asbestos fibres. Asbestos is a known carcinogen and breathing in fibres can cause asbestosis and lung cancer.
Finding fibro products in your home or work place doesn't mean your health is at risk. Studies have shown that these products, if in sound condition and left undisturbed, aren't a significant health risk. If the asbestos fibres remain firmly bound ordinarily you don't need to remove the fibro. Therefore, it is important that any material containing asbestos is not weathered, damaged or burnt.
What types of material contain asbestos?
There are two main types of asbestos, being bonded asbestos and friable asbestos.
When asbestos fibres are bonded to another material, such as portland cement or various resins, and can't be crushed by hand when dry it is referred to as bonded asbestos.
Examples of bonded asbestos materials
- Asbestos cement (AC) products and electrical metering boards in good condition.
- Flat (fibro) corrugated or compressed asbestos cement sheeting.
- Asbestos cement pipes such as electrical, water, drainage and flue pipes.
Friable Asbestos material is any material that contains asbestos and is in the form of a powder, or can be crumbled, pulverized or reduced to powder by hand pressure when dry. This may also include previously non-friable material which becomes broken or damaged by mechanical force or by fire.
Examples of friable asbestos materials
- Sprayed limpet
- Pipe and boiler lagging
- Asbestos cloth and rope.
Also any asbestos cement product that has been subjected to weathering, severely damaged by hail, by heat or other mechanical action or illegal water basting may also result in the asbestos becoming friable and the fibres becoming airborne and hazardous to human health.
Can I remove asbestos material?
The removal of any asbestos material should be in accordance with the Code of Practice for the Safe Removal of Asbestos.
Permits and licenses from SafeWork are required for the removal of any friable asbestos or more than 10m2 of bonded asbestos. If you are considering removing asbestos containing material or employing a contractor to do so on your behalf you should familiarise yourself with the information on asbestos and asbestos licensing on the SafeWork website.
Notification of the commencement of all licensed asbestos removal must be made to SafeWork at least seven days prior to work commencing.
How do I remove asbestos in a safe manner?
If fibro (or bonded) sheeting:
- Do not use power tools. Asbestos fibres can be released if power tools are used for anything other than the removal of screws.
- Wear an Australian Standards Protection Level 2 (P2) minimum half face disposable mask and disposable coveralls. These are generally available from hardware suppliers. Non-Australian Standard certified masks should not be used where asbestos is present.
- Wet fibro sheets down to reduce dust generation and movement.
- Take the sheets off whole (again do not use power tools as this may create dust movement)
- Seal fibro sheets in construction grade plastic. (This should be 200 microns thick)
- Contact your Local Council for a licensed disposal point in your area. Waste Services NSW on (02) 9934 7000 will be able to help if you live in the Sydney Metropolitan area.
- Contact the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Pollution Line on 13 15 55 for information on legally transporting and disposing of asbestos waste
If you use a contractor to assist you and the area of bonded asbestos sheeting (fibro) is over 10 square metres, then you need to have it removed by a licenced asbestos removal contractor. If under this amount, then a license is not required.
Should the asbestos be in powder form or can be crumbled, pulverized or reduced to powder by hand pressure when dry, then an asbestos removal contractor with an AS1 licence is required for its removal.
SafeWork NSW has a guideline on asbestos removal. Contact the Asbestos Awareness Hotline on 1800 272 387 for a copy or visit the SafeWork NSW website and download a copy of the publication.
How do I dispose of material containing asbestos?
Eastern Creek and Lucas Heights Waste and Recycling Centres will receive asbestos waste under certain conditions. At least 24 hours before taking the asbestos waste to the tip it will be necessary to contact Suez to book the delivery.
Guidelines for the transport and disposal of asbestos material to the facility are available from Suez.
Can I make a complaint about unsafe handling of asbestos?
If your neighbour is removing asbestos and handling it safely they should be:
- wearing personal protective equipment (masks, disposable overalls, etc)
- minimising sheet breakage and removing whole fibro sheets
- not using power tools to minimise dust
- not working on windy days
- wetting down fibro sheets before removal
- placing removed sheets in a plastic lined waste bin
- using licensed contractors where required
- removing asbestos in accordance with Workcover guidelines
SafeWork NSW is the regulatory authority for asbestos incidents involving work sites. The council is the regulatory authority under the NSW Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 and undertakes investigation for non-work site related asbestos pollution incidents.
Any complaints received by the council regarding the inappropriate handling of asbestos will be investigated and referred to SafeWork inspectors where incidents fall under their jurisdiction. If you have any enquiries about asbestos or concerns about a person or contractor handling asbestos in an unsafe manner, you can report the matter to either Council on (02) 4645 4000 or the SafeWork Asbestos Hotline on 1800 272 378. You may also contact the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Pollution line on 13 15 55 for information on legally transporting and disposing of asbestos waste.