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Asbestos In The Community

Just after the turn of the century, the first wave of asbestos diseases and deaths occurred in the asbestos mining industry. The second wave attacked workers in the asbestos manufacturing industry. The third wave affected former building and construction workers and continues to do so. Now, due to decaying asbestos products the fourth wave of asbestos diseases, more subtle and insidious, is stalking a wide range of Australians at work, at school and in the home. The consequence of the fifth wave is still yet to come (workers from asbestos removal industry and consequence of uncontrolled-unsafe removal of asbestos cement products).

Asbestos was often sprayed onto ceilings and walls for a variety of purposes, i.e. decorative, etc. It was also used as a form of insulation around the pipes behind radiators or wood-burning stoves. Asbestos was also used in Vinyl floor tiles and their backings, roofing, eaves, shingles, some plaster and paint. Many routine repairs, renovation and maintenance activities - even putting in a new heating system - can disrupt asbestos, releasing millions of fibres into your home, school or office.

Asbestos cement products such as roofs and cladding contain as much as 11% to 20% of chrysotile and 5% to 10% amphibole asbestos (crocidolite or amosite). As a result of the continuing exposure to meteorologic influences such as rain, sunshine, wind and frost, as well as to industrial atmospheric pollutants, the surface of asbestos cement products corrodes and weathers.

Thus, cement particles and asbestos fibres are released from the surface and disperse in air and rainwater.
Residential housing and schools were often clad with fibro cement sheeting (commonly known as fibro) and roofed with corrugated asbestos cement products.

Children who regularly play the whole day in the vicinity of such buildings are possibly already subjected to a level of exposure to asbestos, which should not be ignored.
There has been concern for many years that young persons may be more susceptible to damage by hazardous asbestos fibres. The concern about exposure at an early age is particularly relevant in the case of carcinogens as critical organs may be susceptible to cell damage when they are still growing. Fortunately there is no evidence to date that asbestos has such an effect.

However, if children are exposed to asbestos at an early age, their long life expectancy increases the probability that they may live long enough to develop long latent period cancers such as asbestos-induced lung cancer and mesothelioma. As one eminent doctor commented at the turn of the 20th century in England, when asked if all girls exposed to asbestos in a yarn spinning factory would develop asbestosis, he replied, "Yes, if they live long enough".

The problem of chronic exposure of children to small quantities of airborne asbestos fibres was high on the agenda at the Third Wave conference (in New York). One paper at the conference told of asbestos fibres being found at autopsy in the lung tissue of a full-term stillborn infant that had never drawn an independent breath.

If you suspect that there are asbestos products present in your home or at work, ring or contact the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia toll free on 1800 646 690, or (08) 9344 4077, or contact the Department of Occupational Safety & Health in your State (Worksafe).

Home remodelling may be a health hazard
You've been trying to sell your place for months. But given the situation of the real estate market you've decided to renovate instead. You can't wait to remove that ugly kitchen lino, those stained ceiling tiles, and that old asbestos roof. Finally, you are going to install a heating system that works. Then your neighbour mentions asbestos and the possible health risk.

The last thing you want to hear is that your kitchen floor could give you cancer. But if your home was built before the eighties, there is a good chance that asbestos is present in your home.

During the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s asbestos was extremely popular within the building industry because of its attributes to resist heat, flexibility, and adhesiveness. Architects used to recommend asbestos in building specifications. For example, asbestos was used to make vinyl tiles and the adhesive backing on lino flooring. Hot water pipes were often covered with asbestos lagging. Millboard with asbestos was put behind stoves and radiators for insulation. Some builders mixed the magic mineral into paint, plaster and Spackle, or used it to decorate walls and ceilings for the "textured look". More than a million dwellings were constructed from asbestos cement sheeting in Australia between 1945 and 1980. Some of those dwellings have been demolished or had the asbestos roof or cladding removed.

The Asbestos Diseases Society suggests caution. Seek professional advice before dealing with any asbestos product.

What Does This Mean for Your Renovation?
Don't scrape, cut, rip up or sand down your lino or vinyl floor until inspected by a recommended professional. The same goes for ceilings. Also seek advice before commencing removal of asbestos building material.
Before you steam down wallpaper or tear down a wall make sure asbestos was not mixed into your paint, plaster or spackle or used as insulation inside the wall.
Never use an ordinary household vacuum cleaner to vacuum dust generated through the repair or removal of asbestos cement products, as the vacuum cleaner will turn into a fibre spraying plant.

Contact the Asbestos Diseases Society on our Toll Free number 1800 646 690 or (08) 9344 4077, or your local state Department of Occupational Safety & Health (Worksafe) for advice.

The Asbestos Diseases Society recommends:
Strict adherence to an asbestos-free environment, at home, at school and at work.

This means a prompt inspection of all pre-1980 buildings. Almost all buildings of that era contain some form of asbestos as a part of their structure.

Corrective action must be taken wherever the risk arises for asbestos fibres to escape into the environment. The Australian community must learn to recognise the potential hazards of asbestos in their homes and acquire knowledge to deal with it.

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