Asbestos in the environment
Despite being fully banned in Australia in 2003, large amounts of asbestos remain present in the built environment.
A staggering 12.8 million tonnes of asbestos-containing material was consumed in Australia between 1920 and 2003. It is estimated that 90% of that was cement building materials and cement water pipes.
Much of that still remains in the built environment.
Australians dispose of more than 4,000 tonnes of asbestos waste every day and thousands of tonnes are illegally dumped each year.
Where can asbestos be found in the environment?
Land can become contaminated with asbestos through illegal burial, incorrect demolition or removal procedures, fire damage, storm damage and contamination from former asbestos waste sites.
There are also many areas in Australia where asbestos occurs naturally. This is because asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral. Any work or activities that could disturb naturally occurring asbestos creates a risk because fibres can be released into the air and inhaled.
Illegal dumping of asbestos is a big problem and should be reported to your local council or Environmental Protection Authority.
What rules apply to asbestos in the environment?
Environmental laws dealing with asbestos are broadly similar around Australia. All states and territories have requirements to not pollute the environment or unlawfully dispose of asbestos waste.
The transport and disposal of asbestos must be done in accordance with those laws.
Asbestos waste can only be disposed of at a licensed facility. There are big penalties for the illegal disposal of asbestos, which includes putting it in a domestic rubbish bin, waste skip or dumping it in the bush. There are also rules about the wrapping, labelling and transporting of asbestos waste.
Asbestos safety concerns can usually be addressed by contacting your:
- local council if the work is being conducted by a neighbour (a home owner or tenant)
- local council or state or territory environmental regulator (e.g. Environment Protection Authority if the concern relates to public areas or illegally dumped asbestos in parks or bushland)
- your local council or environmental regulator if the concern related to the transport and disposal of asbestos waste.
You can find out more details on the environmental laws by visiting the website of the environmental regulator of your state and territory. These are also available on our contacts page.
If you need to dispose of asbestos you can find an asbestos disposal facility below: