BE WARY: Asbestos Awareness Week will target home renovations this year.
BE WARY: Asbestos Awareness Week will target home renovations this year. Contributed

Leave asbestos removal to the experts

THE discovery of asbestos during the National Broadband Network roll-out in Coffs Harbour last week serves as a reminder to home buyers and renovators that this material is still a commonly found potential hazard.

Mere mention of the word asbestos and immediately thoughts spring to lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma, but provided the correct precautions are taken, the risks can be minimised.

The risk of contracting these diseases increases with the number of fibres inhaled.

People who get health prob- lems have usually been exposed to high levels of asbestos for a long time.

That doesn't mean asbestos shouldn't be treated with the utmost of caution.

Ian Agnew from Archicentre said that provided asbestos-cement products used in the construction of homes are not disturbed the health of the occupants of the home is not at risk.

"If the asbestos sheeting is in good condition, it can be painted so as to limit the breakdown of the surface and the release of fibres," Mr Agnew said.

"Care should be taken and sanding during preparation should be avoided."

Mr Agnew said the real risk of exposure to asbestos fibres occurs with the demolition of walls or roofs during the renovation of a property and the breaking, drilling or cutting of products containing asbestos.

The biggest concern with asbestos has become the influence of DIY and home renovation shows over the past decade in home owners taking on their own work.

The issue was highlighted on Channel 7's new reality TV show House Rules when work had to be momentarily shut down following the discovery of asbestos in one of the homes being renovated.

Mr Agnew said the concern is that home renovators may not recognise the extreme health risks involved for themselves and their families which can be caused by asbestos fibres.

Asbestos was used in flat- sheet fibro-cement building products until 1982 and in corrugated fibro-cement roofing material until 1986 because of its cheapness and ease of installation.

Archicentre has found the most widespread presence of asbestos-cement sheets is in the eaves of many older houses, as a wall cladding or lining material and in the form of roofing.

Older outbuildings such as garden sheds, carports and garages are also often clad entirely of asbestos cement sheeting and it can be present in older sheet flooring material and in pipe insulation.

Mr. Agnew warned home owners not to walk on corrugated asbestos cement roofs which become extremely brittle with age and are likely to shatter under foot, releasing asbestos fibres and possibly resulting in the home owner falling through the roof.

"Asbestos sheeting or other materials containing asbestos should be removed by a specialist licensed contractor who will also arrange for its disposal in a landfill registered to take hazardous materials," Mr. Agnew said.

HOME HAZARD: Provided it is handled properly, asbestos doesn't have to pose serious health risks.