Frequently asked questions on asbestos

if you need more information about asbestos than this page provides, read the frequently asked questions. 

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is the name given to a group of naturally occurring mineral fibres which were used extensively in many products due to the versatility, strength, fire resistant and insulating properties of the fibres.

The versatility of asbestos made it attractive to many industries and is thought to have more than 3000 applications worldwide. Australia was one of the highest users per capita in the world up until the mid-1980s. Approximately one third of all homes built in Australia contain asbestos products. The widespread use of asbestos has left a deadly legacy.

What are the health effects of asbestos exposure?

Asbestos is a known carcinogen, and the inhalation of asbestos fibres is associated with increased incidences of a number of diseases including pleural disease, asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. Even limited or short-term exposure to asbestos fibres can be dangerous but exposure does not make development of an asbestos related disease (ARD) inevitable. There is still much unknown about why some people are susceptible to asbestos related diseases, while others who have been regularly exposed to asbestos may avoid contracting an ARD .

How do I know if there is asbestos in my home?

Approximately one third of all homes built in Australia contain asbestos products. As a general rule, if your house was built before the mid-1980s, it is highly likely that it would have some asbestos containing materials. If your house was built between the mid-1980s and 1990, it is likely that it would have asbestos containing materials. If your house was built after 1990, it is unlikely that it would have asbestos containing materials.

It is not possible to determine whether a material contains asbestos by simply looking at it. The only way to be sure is to get a sample tested by a National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) accredited laboratory.

For information on testing and accredited laboratories in your area, visit www.nata.com.au or call 1800 621 666.

The agency has provided information on the sampling process and the recommended steps to follow when taking samples for testing. 

If you are in doubt, treat the material as if it does contain asbestos.

My child has damaged a wall in my house and I think it contains asbestos. What do I do?

If the wall is damaged, the safest way to manage any health risk is to wipe up any dust with a damp cloth or damp paper towel. Place the damp cloth or towel inside a plastic bag. Tie up the bag and place into a second bag. Tie the second bag tightly and place in the rubbish bin. Do not use a normal vacuum cleaner as it is unable to filter out all the particles and may release more fibres into the air.

If the wall is cracked, you should seal the crack with a sealant such as PVA glue, polyfiller or paint. If there is more damage, the entire sheet may need to be replaced and the old sheet disposed of correctly.

Can I remove asbestos from my home? Do I need to get approval before removing asbestos from my house?

There are different requirements for each state and territory.

Any building renovation work (involving removal of asbestos from your home) may require obtaining a building licence or in the case of removal of a building a demolition licence.

Contact your local council in your state or territory for further information.