Demolitions, Renovations, Building Repair and Asbestos

Inhalation of asbestos fibres poses a risk to health. It is a carcinogen, known to cause mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis.

Repairs and renovations that involve removing, cleaning, cutting, drilling, sanding or painting materials containing asbestos can release dangerous fibres into the air where they can be inhaled.

There are two commonly used forms of asbestos product.
1.friable asbestos material means any material that contains asbestos and is in the form of a powder or can be crumbled, pulverised or reduced to powder by hand pressure when dry.
2. bonded asbestos material means any material (other than friable asbestos material) that contains asbestos.

In the past asbestos was used in around 3000 products manufactured world–wide, most commonly in the construction, car manufacturing and textile industries.

Perhaps the most commonly used asbestos product in Australia from the 40’s until the late 80’s was “fibro” a bonded asbestos product containing around 15% asbestos. Fibro was widely used as wall and ceiling sheeting in houses and other structures because of its strength and resistance to heat and salt air. It has been used even in brick structures under the eaves and as internal linings especially in bathrooms and laundries.

In addition to fibro sheeting, bonded asbestos was used in roofing and as fencing panels (“supersix”) guttering, pipes, floor and ceiling tiles.

Asbestos was also used as an insulation material, as a fire retardant, in gaskets, in brake linings and as a filtering material.

The use of asbestos has gradually been phased out with all forms of asbestos use discontinued in 2003.

Fibro if in good condition presents minimal risk when left undisturbed. Broken, badly weathered or damaged bonded asbestos material may release fibres that present a risk to health and should be removed, or sealed so as to prevent release of asbestos fibre.

Home renovators need to be particularly aware of this material, that when cut drilled or broken can present the risks to health abovementioned, especially if working in a confined space. Others may be at risk when cleaning up, and if not cleaned up it may continue to remain a danger.

Asbestos containing material should never by cleaned using a high–pressure water cleaner.

The only way to confirm whether a material contains asbestos is to have it analysed by one of the National Association of Testing Laboratories (NATA) laboratories accredited for this type of testing.

Asbestos Removal and Disposal.

Since 1 January 2008 a bonded asbestos licence has been required in NSW to remove more than 10 square metres of bonded asbestos material. Licencing for asbestos removalists is regulated and administered in NSW by WorkCover NSW and people using contractors should request to sight the current licence before employing a contractor.

Two types of licences designated AS1 and AS2 are issued. An AS1 licence holder can carry out work which involves both friable and bonded asbestos. An AS2 licence holder can work with bonded asbestos only.

Asbestos containing products can only be disposed of at a waste facility licenced to accept these materials. Ballina Shire’s Southern Cross Drive waste facility is not currently able to receive this type of waste. The nearest authorized facility is at Lismore. Arrangements may be made through Lismore City Council for its disposal at its Wyrallah Rd Waste facility. Specific requirements also apply to its transportation.

Certain demolition work involves the need for approval from Council and licencing from WorkCover NSW. If in doubt ask.

Council officers are authorized under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act, the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act and other legislation to enforce the provisions of the legislation where work is done other than in accordance with an approval or where there has been a specific breach of the legislation. Substantial penalties can apply.

Further Information on asbestos is available on the SafeWork NSW website and the Asbestos Awareness website.

Information is available  here on the safe disposal of asbestos product and locations where and how asbestos can be disposed of.

The Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (DECCW) has developed guidance material for use by councils and NSW Government agencies about asbestos and fire damaged buildings.

The guidance material contains information about:

  • Which buildings are likely to contain asbestos?
  • What is the health risk from fire damaged buildings containing asbestos?
  • What precautions should be taken during clean–up of a fire–damaged building containing asbestos?
  • Will neighbouring properties be affected by a fire involving asbestos?Who is responsible for cleaning up fire–damaged buildings containing asbestos?
  • Where to get further advice or assistance

Click here to download the Guidance Material: Asbestos and Fire–damaged Buildings

Don’t become an asbestos victim. Take care when renovating, painting or working with asbestos.