About asbestos

Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral fibre.

Historically, it has been mined and used by many industries worldwide.

Asbestos was once considered to be a very useful mineral because it is flexible, strong, affordable and can insulate from heat and electricity. Because of this, it was commonly used in the construction of homes and buildings.

Exposure to asbestos fibres can cause life-threatening illnesses, so use of asbestos has been greatly reduced and it is now banned in 61 countries.

There are six types of asbestos mineral fibres:

  • Chrysotile (white asbestos)
  • Amosite (brown or grey asbestos)
  • Crocidolite (blue asbestos)
  • Tremolite
  • Actinolite
  • Anthophylite

Asbestos use in Australia

Up until the mid-1980s, Australia had one of the highest rates of asbestos use per person in the world.

Asbestos was mined in Australia until 1984, and 1.5 million tonnes of asbestos was imported between 1930 and 1983.

On the 31st December 2003 asbestos was banned in Australia.

Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs)

Asbestos-containing materials can be dangerous to health if they are not properly maintained or removed carefully. There are two types of asbestos-containing materials:

Non-friable asbestos

A product that contains asbestos fibres that have been mixed with other materials, such as cement. Non-friable asbestos is commonly found in buildings in Australia. If non-friable asbestos is damaged or broken, it may release asbestos fibres into the air.

Friable asbestos

A material that contains asbestos that can be easily crumbled or reduced to powder, such as insulation. This type of asbestos is more likely to become airborne.

Asbestos in the home

Approximately one third of all homes in Australia contain asbestos products. If your house was built before 1990, it is likely that it would have some asbestos-containing materials. Asbestos or asbestos-containing materials could be found in the following areas:

  • roofing and gutters
  • gables and eaves
  • walls
  • vinyl, carpet and tile underlay
  • Lining behind wall tiles
  • imitation brick cladding
  • fencing
  • sheds
  • splashbacks in wet areas
  • telecommunications pits
  • some window putty
  • expansion joints
  • packing under beams
  • concrete formwork

The Asbestos Awareness website has a range of images of where asbestos could be found in your home.

Useful resources

World Health Organization - Asbestos: elimination of asbestos-related diseases fact sheet

Cancer Council asbestos information - including free eLearning course