Asbestos is a silicate mineral made up of tiny fibres. When disturbed, it produces a dust that contains asbestos fibres. Fibres breathed into the lungs can cause health problems including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Asbestos was commonly used in building materials between the 1940s and 1980s because it was fire-resistant, durable and an efficient insulating material. But now we are aware of the health risks, it is no longer mined in Australia. Since December 2003, it has not been imported or used in any Australian products.
Asbestos in the home
Asbestos was used and can be found in a number of areas around the home, including roof tiles and insulation, pipe and water tank insulation, wall and floor panelling, ceilings and outdoor sheds. It was even used as backing for vinyl flooring.
Asbestos comes in two forms:
Friable: loosely bound and can generally be found in several forms of insulation including old heaters, old hot water services and pipe insulation. Friable asbestos is more likely to release fibres and is more of a health risk.
Non-friable: bound and less likely to release fibres unless it is damaged. Non-friable asbestos is generally found in sheets used in walls and ceilings, cement roof tiles, flues, water pipes and ceramic tile underlay.
Prospective homeowners or renovators are encouraged to visit the Department of Health's Asbestos in the Home or Better Health Channel's Asbestos in the Home for more information.
Risks of Existing Asbestos Materials
Generally, the presence of asbestos in home building materials does not pose a health risk unless the material is broken, deteriorating or disturbed in such a way that dust containing asbestos fibres is produced (such as during sanding or sawing).
It is difficult to tell whether a building material contains asbestos. The only way to be certain is to have a sample of the material tested in an accredited laboratory. If you do not want to test the material then it should be treated as though it contains asbestos.
If you would like to have a sample of material tested for asbestos, contact the National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) on 1800 621 666 or visit the NATA website.
Removal and Disposal of Asbestos
Due to the significant health risks associated with asbestos, there are strict requirements for its removal and disposal.
For information on the correct commercial transportation and disposal of asbestos, and a list of licensed asbestos disposal sites, please visit the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) website or call 1300 372 842.
View the 'Asbestos: A guide for householders and the general public' brochure on the Department of Health's website for information about asbestos in the home.
If you have encountered asbestos as a part of a renovation or demolition, please see our Building section regarding Encountering Asbestos.
Licensed Asbestos Removalists
For more information about asbestos and for a list of licensed asbestos removalists, visit the WorkSafe website or call WorkSafe Victoria on 1800 136 089.
If you have a complaint regarding the removal of asbestos by a licensed removalist or asbestos in the workplace you should contact WorkSafe on 1800 136 089 or visit the WorkSafe website.
For general asbestos-related enquiries, or complaints regarding incorrect removal or disposal of asbestos, contact Council's Public Health Unit on 9518 3555 or email firstname.lastname@example.org