DIY craze exposes asbestos danger

Lawyer Margaret Kent says a survey result was ‘alarming’.
Lawyer Margaret Kent says a survey result was ‘alarming’.

Asbestos, which poses a significant health risk if not properly maintained or removed, is believed to be in one-third of all homes built in Australia.

The material’s versatility made it popular in many industries until the mid-1980s.

A recent survey found 47 per cent of Australian homeowners were confident they could recognise asbestos, despite more than 60 per cent of participants undertaking DIY renovations.

Ms Kent said the findings were alarming, considering “hundreds” of Australians are diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases every year.

“The first wave of victims was mostly miners and manufacturers and the second wave was construction and trade workers who were exposed to asbestos in building materials,” she said.

“Sadly, we’re in the midst of a third wave of victims who were exposed in their home environment.

“Without greater community asbestos awareness, we risk more home exposures to asbestos as more and more people embrace the DIY craze and renovate their homes.”

Environmental Health Hazards managing scientist Michael Lindsay said there was a misconception that asbestos is only found as cement sheeting in roofs, fences, or walls in older houses.

Asbestos can also be found in carpet and tile underlay, guttering and carports and sheds, among other places.

“These types of products pose little risk to health when they are in good condition and undisturbed,” Dr Lindsay said.

“But homeowners need to take precautions when they are renovating or doing maintenance work to prevent asbestos fibres being released into the air and inhaled.

“Products containing asbestos can be difficult to identify just by looking at them. So, if in any doubt, treat it like it is asbestos just to be on the safe side.”

Cockburn’s environmental health manager Nick Jones said the City received about two calls per week relating to asbestos.

“They are usually related to how to dispose of asbestos products or to report illegal dumping,” he said.]

“Unfortunately the illegal dumping of asbestos products on vacant land and in bushland damages the environment and is costly to remove.”

WA Health’s top tips to be ‘asbestos aware’

If doing maintenance, or renovating a house built before 1990, be aware it could have asbestos containing products and treat them with caution

If buying a house, ask that asbestos containing products be assessed as part of the building inspection report

Don’t use power tools to drill, cut, sand or remove materials containing asbestos, as this will release asbestos fibres

Never use a high pressure cleaner to clean asbestos cement roofing, cladding or fencing.

If removing small amounts of asbestos containing products yourself, learn how to safely remove and dispose of them first. A good example is on the Cancer Council WA website.

If in doubt, hire a licensed asbestos removalist and check that the work area is free from visible asbestos at the end of the job.

Homeowners are encouraged to contact their local government environmental health officer for more information.