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Asbestos Dangers For Homeowners, Home Buyers And Renovators

  • The Australian Government’s “Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA)” released a report in February 2016 containing the results oRenovating danger asbestosf a survey on asbestos awareness among residential home buyers and renovators.
  • The ASEA report raised a number of issues as to the ongoing awareness of the dangers of asbestos and the potential for an increase in the exposure to danger through inadequate knowledge of the dangers.
  • This article contains a summary of the ASEA report and also a review of important asbestos information to raise our awareness of asbestos dangers.

The Report

  • The ASEA report is particularly applicable to homeowners, homeowners undertaking renovation or building work and to homebuyers purchasing older homes.
  • The report notes that Australia has the second highest rating of mesothelioma deaths behind the United Kingdom with more than 10,000 having resulted from the disease. Mesothelioma is a disease which can be caused by contact with asbestos.
  • According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, in the next 40 years, it’s claimed that an additional 25,000 people are expected to die from mesothelioma in Australia.
  • ASEA currently estimates that 1 in 3 homes in Australia contains asbestos if built prior to 1990 and ASEA is concerned that the attitude to asbestos is changing as more people believe that it has become less of a problem.

Key Findings of Report

  • There are a number of key findings in the report:
  • Nearly all homebuyers and renovators (99%) are aware of asbestos.
  • Asbestos is known to be extremely dangerous toxic and hazardous to your health.
  • More than ¾ of homebuyers and renovators (78%) are aware of asbestos and 88% agreed that asbestos is a hazard to the do-it-yourself (DIY) renovator.
  • While asbestos is understood to be dangerous it is not an issue that is front of mind for most when buying a home. Asbestos generally seem to be low on the list of fears and concerns of homebuyers because it is seen as something that might affect them many years from now. It became evident during ASEA’s investigations that homebuyers:
  • were not aware of the areas where asbestos could be found in residential buildings;
  • did not realise that building inspectors are usually not responsible or qualified to identify asbestos in the home and did not do so in their reports; and
  • believe that asbestos identification is the responsibility of a building inspector.

Asbestos is an Important Issue

  • It is also common now for homeowners to believe that asbestos used to be a big issue but it isn’t anymore and that any asbestos in homes is contained and is only dangerous if it is disturbed. Asbestos is more typically believed to be outside the home, in roofs or sheds and in fibro sheeting such as external wall cladding or eaves.
  • The research suggests that Australians currently have awareness without sufficient knowledge which leads to a sense of denial.
  • The research also found that when inspecting homes for purchase it is difficult for most non-qualified people to identify what material contains asbestos and real estate agents are not obliged to point out any asbestos in a vendors home.
  • Building inspectors generally do not advise on whether a building contains asbestos for a common pre-purchase inspection. A qualified asbestos inspector’s assessment is required to identify the asbestos.
  • Prospective purchasers may find that an asbestos assessment can offer peace of mind and help protect the health and well-being of their family. The report notes that the average costs for an asbestos assessment is around $790.00.

Asbestos can affect property values

  • Property valuers contacted in the research do take asbestos into account when valuing a property as they have to alert their client to the risk of asbestos from a financial perspective. The presence of asbestos does affect how property valuers value a house, if a house contains a significant amount of asbestos (such as a “fibro” house cladded entirely with asbestos) the valuers sometimes value the valuation to land value only.
  • When a house potentially contains enough asbestos to incur substantial costs for removal, a property valuer may alert the client to the need for an asbestos assessment before they commit to a valuation.
  • Overall the ASEA report shows that the Australian public need to be more aware of the danger of asbestos in their homes and consider obtaining an asbestos assessment report if seriously considering purchase.
  • For those who are not aware of the nature of asbestos we provide a brief outline in the following sections.

What is Asbestos?

  • Asbestos is a highly heat-resistant fibrous silicate mineral that can be woven into fabrics and integrated into materials. It was commonly used during the 20th century in building products to provide strength and insulating properties.
  • Asbestos is classified into two categories known as friable or bonded. Bonded asbestos is asbestos that is enclosed in another product such as cement. Friable asbestos is asbestos that is loose and the particles may enter or float in the air. Friable asbestos products can contain up to 100% asbestos.
  • Friable asbestos is found in products such as pipe lagging and can also become an issue on roof sheeting where the weather has deteriorated the cement covering the asbestos allowing the particles to come loose.
  • Asbestos fibres are not visible to the naked eye and are very light and remain airborne for a long time. As a result they can be carried by wind and air currents over large distances.

Asbestos Bans

  • The dangers of asbestos came to prominence in the mid-20th century and there were moves to warn people of its dangers. Asbestos products at that time were often labelled with warnings that the product contained asbestos. The use of asbestos in all products was completely banned by December 2003.
  • As a general rule if a house was built before mid-1980 it is highly likely to have asbestos containing products. If it was built between mid-1980 and 1990 it is likely to have asbestos containing products and if it was built after 1990 it is unlikely to have asbestos containing products.

Asbestos Locations

  • There are considerable number of areas where asbestos products may be found internally including:

(a) bathroom wall lining;

(b) laundry wall lining;

(c) lagging on hot water pipes;

(d) insulation;

(e) backing material under vinyl or linoleum.

  • Externally, asbestos can be found in items such as cladding, roofing sheets and gutters.
  • In our experience in building matters, it is a common for asbestos to be discovered when excavations are undertaken for new building work as it is often the case that a previous builder has buried the asbestos problem more than likely to negate the cost of disposal.
  • There are strict regulations for the disposal of asbestos and a local Council or Waste Depot can advise of the correct method of disposal.

Asbestos Removal

  • A homeowner or tradesman is usually allowed to remove ten square metres of bonded asbestos in a house, however if there is more than ten square meters a licensed asbestos remover is required. The amount allowed for unlicensed removal may vary in different Council’s or States.
  • Asbestos removalists are licensed to remove either bonded asbestos or both bonded and friable asbestos. There are strict procedures in the way in which asbestos must be removed including safety protection for the workers and appropriate methods of storage and disposal to ensure the product is not exposed to the air.

Asbestos at a Workplace

  • The Work Health and Saasbestos crystals fety Regulations 2011 make it compulsory to maintain an asbestos register and asbestos management plan if a person has management or control of a work place that contains asbestos.
  • It is possible in some circumstances that a residential premise may be considered a work place for the purposes of the legislation where a business is conducted at the premises. The manager or controller of the work place should first determine whether the workplace contains asbestos and if it does, an asbestos register should be prepared and kept up-to-date.
  • The asbestos management plan must be reviewed every 5 years or when an incident involving asbestos occurs and it must be accessible to anyone during construction, renovation or demolition work in the work place.

Conclusion

  • The ASEA report provides a timely warning of the continuing dangers of asbestos to home owners. Whether we are a homeowner, homebuyer or renovator we should all be aware of asbestos and take steps to limit any danger.

In addition to the ASEA Report, the details in this article have been obtained from the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011: Asbestos: A guide for Householders and the General Public: The Department of Health Australian Government.

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