Best Left to the Professionals: Asbestos Removal
June 1, 2015
Natural and ancient materials aren't always the best.
Both the ancient Greeks and the Romans used asbestos, a naturally-occurring silicate, and learned quickly of the health problems caused by the material. Workers who handled the Roman cloth developed “a sickness in the lungs” as noted by Pliny the Elder, the Roman scholar. They would succumb to sickness at an alarming rate and die at an early age.
Yet, what goes around comes around and Fibrous Asbestos Cement products (Fibro or AC sheeting) were commonly used for decades in Australia and around the world.
Asbestos came into fashion for several reasons. It was cheap, easy to use and maintenance free. It also made a good addition to reinforce cement. (Nowadays, these fibers are cellulose, but for several generations, it was asbestos.) Fireproof and paint-free, asbestos was easily marketed. Following the 1938 opening of Australia's Wittenoon mine, it was even locally made. As a result, it is estimated that a full third of the new houses built in Australia in the 50s and 60s used Fibro as an instrumental material.
In addition to Fibro sheets, asbestos was used in many other ways.
- Tilux sheets were used in wet areas of the home such as bathrooms, toilets, laundry areas and kitchen splashbacks.
- Super Six or Fibrolite were used for roofing and industrial walls. Sometimes, it would even be used for maintenance-free garden fencing.
- AC sheets were used for cladding walls and ceilings.
- FAC sheets were made to look like red clay brickwork, making it more fashionable once again.
- FAC was used to make gutters and rainwater downpipes.
- Fibro was used to make moulded planter boxes using longer length fibers.
- Texture type paints (such as that common on 70s ceilings) and soundproofing paint as well as acoustic ceiling panels were often made from asbestos.
- Other products included telephone cable pits, roofing shingles, vinyl floor tiles and even the underlay sheets. Furnaces, boilers and heating installations used asbestos-containing products including lagging, jointing compound, pipe and duct gaskets, flue pipes, and door seals.
Asbestosis was officially recognised in 1924 and it became clear that asbestos causes lung cancer, mesothelioma and pleural plaque as well as increased vulnerability to other lung-related diseases. Despite this, production continued. The 70s and 80s brought widespread awareness of asbestos-related health problems and although products began to be discontinued throughout the 80s and 90s, it wasn't until 2004 that asbestos was finally totally banned in Australia. Many houses throughout the country still contain this lethal material.
The problem with asbestos is not that it sits there, but that it gets loose. This is why it is vital to have it removed. Those Fibro sheets are filled with many of the very small fibers which can easily get into the lungs of any animal or human within reach of the contaminated dust. Due to this contaminated dust issue, asbestos is extremely dangerous to remove and requires a licensed professional who knows how to handle the extreme hazard that damaged asbestos products can present.
If you have or suspect you have asbestos in your home, don't panic. The best plan of action is to simply leave it alone. Keep an eye on it so that you know that it is in good, undamaged condition. Paint it if it isn't already – don't scratch it, but paint carefully to seal the fibers in. Fibro sheets get brittle as they age, so do not step on asbestos roofing materials if you can avoid it.
Have your local asbestos removal specialist help you keep an eye on your asbestos problem. When the time comes to remove it completely, you will know that you are in good hands to bring your home or building into the modern, asbestos-free era.