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Risks of Asbestos in the Home and How to Minimise Danger

In the past asbestos was commonly used in a large number of building and construction products for homes, including corrugated cement roof sheets, panels for ceilings and floors and components for other construction products. In recent years there have been health concerns from asbestos exposure that range from a general sickness to lung cancer symptoms, so it is no longer approved. However, homes built with asbestos products will still have these components installed, and it’s important to know the risks associated with this and how to minimise the impact of the danger.

Health risks from asbestos exposure

The first thing you must know is that asbestos is generally harmless when left intact, but it will begin to emit toxins after being disturbed.  So if there is asbestos in your home and you plan on remodelling you need to be aware of the risks. Being exposed to building products that have asbestos components can be hazardous. Disturbed asbestos fibres may be easily inhaled and have been linked to certain types of cancers. Chrysotile asbestos is linked to Mesothelioma in humans, which is a pervasive type of cancer that may remain dormant for a number of years before manifesting as a cancer. Asbestosis is another cancerous illness that can result from exposure to this type of construction product.
 

If asbestos is so bad why was it commonly used in homes?

The most widely used asbestos material is the fibre called chrysotile. Before the carcinogenic nature of the material was widely known there were many advantages to this form of asbestos, including:

  • This construction product can be a good home insulator in the form of attic insulation sheets, for example
  • This form of asbestos is fire resistant
  • It is less expensive than other types of products available for heat insulation and fire retardant applications.


Where asbestos can be found in the home

Housing in Australia can contain asbestos products and a residential asbestos inspection by professionals may be in order. Two out of three houses in Australia built between World War II and the early 1980's still may contain asbestos. Government actions that are currently being reviewed may rid asbestos use by 2030. There are several areas within a home that may contain an asbestos product including:

  • A home's electrical insulation and hot plate wiring units may contain a type of asbestos
  • A home's residential insulation can have a form of asbestos or fibre by-product
  • Asbestos can be woven into fabrics and mats that are distributed throughout a home
  • Asbestos cement was commonly used for residential construction
  • Corrugated asbestos cement is a component of roof sheets for many home garages
  • Sheets of panels for ceilings, walls and floors may have asbestos fibres
  • The component chrysotile may be an ingredient for joint compounds and some plasters
  • Fire barriers in fuse boxes and pipe insulation may be made of asbestos fibres
  • Floor tiles may use asbestos for its fire retardant quality.


What to Do about Asbestos Construction
You can and should replace asbestos construction products with those products that do not contain an asbestos component. There are other methods of home insulation and fire retardant materials can be purchased that do not have asbestos components. However, it is of the utmost importance to hire a professional to first of all carry out a residential asbestos inspection before beginning any remodelling work or asbestos removal in the home in order to determine what components of your home contain the material, and the risks involved in disturbing these elements. You then need to hire an asbestos removalist to safely remove and dispose of the product.


Summary
Asbestos has been used for several centuries as a construction product. There have been recent medical studies that have discovered a link between cancer and asbestos exposure. These recent medical findings have made the construction industry more aware of the possible risks of exposing workers to asbestos components. A professional residential asbestos inspection can find which home products need to be replaced and safe removal is necessary.

Brad Porteus is the Managing Director of BSP Construction Consultants, property and building inspection specialists in Perth, Western Australia. You can find Brad on Google+ and LinkedIn.