Where can we find asbestos?

Where can we find asbestos in our home?

Now that we know a lot more today about the health risks of asbestos, you might be wondering: where can we find asbestos? Do we still use asbestos today?

In Australia, we placed a total ban on the manufacture, use, reuse, import, transport, storage or sale of all forms of asbestos from 31 December 2003. Today, we aren’t producing or importing any new products that contain asbestos.

However, we used asbestos widely in manufacturing in the last century, particularly from the 1940s until the late 1980s. As a result, older buildings can still contain asbestos material. Therein lies the danger: while it’s safe to say that a house built today wouldn’t contain any asbestos, living in an older building could still expose you to health risks.

A history of asbestos in Australia

Commercial industries started using asbestos products from the late 1800s for insulation, soundproofing and fireproofing. In Australia, asbestos cement materials were widely used in residential building materials from the mid-1940s until the late 1980s. Until the 1980s, Australia had one of the highest rates of asbestos use per person in the world. During the mid to late 1980s, asbestos materials were phased out in favour of asbestos-free ones. A couple of decades later, in December 2003, we placed a total ban on all asbestos products.

However, the widespread use of asbestos in residential buildings during the 20th century has had a marked impact on Australian housing, even today. For example, in New South Wales, it’s estimated that 1 in 3 houses built or renovated between 1945 and 1990 still have asbestos-containing material. So, despite the ban on asbestos-containing products in new housing, people can still dwell in buildings that contain asbestos.

Which houses most likely contain asbestos?

The Environmental Health Standing Committee of Australia in 2013 categorised the risk of asbestos in a house according to the year in which they were built.

As a rule, if your house was built:

  • before the mid-1980s: there’s a high chance that it has asbestos
  • between the mid-1980s and 1990: there’s a chance that it has asbestos
  • after 1990: there’s a low chance that it has asbestos. However, some houses built in the 1990s and early 2000s may have used asbestos materials before the total ban in December 2003.

What kinds of products might contain asbestos?

There are two types of asbestos-containing products: 1) friable products and 2) bonded products.

Friable products are soft, loose, and crumbly. They usually contain high levels of asbestos, sometimes reaching up to 100 per cent asbestos. Bonded (or non-friable) asbestos products are made from a bonding compound, such as cement, mixed with smaller amounts of asbestos. 

Friable asbestos products are dangerous since their fibres get released into the air very easily. People can inhale these fibres and become ill from asbestos-related diseases. 

Bonded asbestos products, on the other hand, do not normally release any fibres into the air until they are damaged. One they are damaged, they can become friable, posing the same level of risk as other friable asbestos products.

Most of the asbestos-containing products used in houses in the past were bonded products. These included:

  • roofing
  • exterior and interior wall cladding
  • fencing
  • thermal boards around fireplaces
  • water pipes.

However, the more dangerous friable asbestos products can still be in older homes, including:

  • wood stoves
  • loose-fill roofing insulation
  • spray-on soundproofing
  • insulation on hot-water pipes or domestic heaters
  • hail or fire-damaged asbestos cement materials

Remember, asbestos is dangerous when people breathe in its fibres. Asbestos in the home poses a low risk when sealed away and undamaged. However, the danger comes with renovation or demolition, which can release asbestos fibres into the air.

Wrapping up

In Australia, we banned the use, manufacture and import of all asbestos-containing materials in December 2003. So, legally we cannot produce, import or use asbestos in Australia. However, residual asbestos can still be found in older homes, especially those built before 1990. Therefore, living in a house built or renovated during an older era still poses a risk to your health.

If you are concerned about asbestos in your home, contact a professional to help you. The experts at Envirofree can offer environmental consulting services for your home, including asbestos removal. We also provide other services such as mould and methamphetamine testing.

Meth Testing: The New Norm for Home Buyers

More than ever, home buyers are extra vigilant when inspecting their new building. Not only do they pay attention to asbestos and pests – they also test their new property for drugs.

One of these drugs is methamphetamine, or meth.

What is methamphetamine?

Meth is an odorless, bitter-tasting powder stimulant that easily dissolves in alcohol or water.

Some forms are prescribed legally as a medication for the treatment of narcolepsy, obesity, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, in its illicit forms, it’s a powerful, extremely addictive drug.

Meth is euphoria-inducing to the user, releasing dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline into the brain. Users consume meth in various ways: smoking from a glass pipe, injecting, snorting or swallowing. From this, chemical residue can seep from carpets, walls, furniture, and even ceilings. New tenants can have serious health problems if their building has a history of meth contamination. Some of the health risks include breathing difficulties, asthma-type symptoms, moodiness, sleep troubles, and skin irritation.

At Envirofree, we recommend meth testing as one of the inspections to carry out before you seal the deal on your new home.

Why do I need a meth test?

Below are a couple of reasons why you should get a meth test on your property pre-purchase.

Family Health

There is no safe level of meth exposure. Anyone in the family can be affected at different levels. Children are at a higher risk of experiencing symptoms as a result of meth exposure. They have smaller bodies, their respiratory rate is faster, and they engage in hand-to-mouth activity. This is not to say that adults are low-risk. Those with complex health issues, such as auto-immune conditions, are also at a high risk of harm when exposed to meth.

Financial Risk

A financial risk comes with buying a meth-contaminated property. It’s very expensive to clean and reinstate such a property. Cleaning for meth contamination can cost between $8,000 and upwards of $55,000, depending on the extent of the exposure. The cost could include carpet, kitchen furnishings, and wall demolition.

How do I do a meth inspection in my new home?

Meth contamination tends to be invisible, especially when properties have been prepared for the housing market. Since meth is odorless, it’s difficult to detect. Even law enforcement agencies find it difficult to spot the houses where meth has been used or manufactured.

The best way to screen for meth? Laboratory testing.

Laboratory testing

To be on the safe side, you should include a lab-based meth test as part of Sale and Purchase property agreement. Use the test result to make a purchasing decision.

A DIY meth test kit starts from $100, and an initial inspection cost is around $350. To determine the level of contamination, a further test is required. The cost of this test starts from $2,800.

Let’s look at the cases where the result is positive:

Case A: The level of contamination is low

The first thing to do? Consider how this result would impact you in the future, when you want to sell the property. Have this back of your mind when you make your offer. Also, consider the current status of the property, such as recent renovations or paint jobs.

Case B: The level of contamination is high

If you still want to go ahead and buy this type of property, make an informed decision on your purchase. Request a further detailed screening to understand the full extent of the problem.

Summary

Methamphetamine is a highly addictive substance that can seep into its surrounding environment. This exposure is a health risk to future inhabitants.

You will be spending at least tens of thousands of dollars to purchase your new property. So, when you factor that in, the cost of a meth test should not be so much of a problem.

To sum up: do not unwittingly buy a meth-contaminated home. Play it safe and include a meth screening as part of the pre-purchase inspection.

What Is Land Contamination? Risk Assessment and Remediation

What is land contamination?

The land is the ‘universal sink’ of our environment. Land contamination occurs when substances, wastes, hazardous chemicals, or oil are released into the environment.

When these hazardous materials are in high concentrations in the environment, they migrate to potable groundwater. As a result, they expose themselves to humans and other organisms. In this case, we are all exposed to risks to our health, ecology and business liability.

Contaminated land does not only affect humans – it affects all living organisms. Alongside the health and environmental impacts, it has major economic, legal, and planning implications.

The causes

Land contamination occurs for many reasons. The reasons can be accidental or natural. Either way, it poses a severe risk to the environment.

1. Accidental spill sites

Accidental spills can release thousands of litres of gas, oil, and chemicals into the land and water.

2. Natural and human-induced disasters

Natural or human-induced disasters, such as floods or terrorist activity, can contaminate land. It can also cause more problems at already contaminated sites.

3. Abandoned and inactive land mines

Abandoned and inactive mines can lack the proper clean-ups needed to ensure safety. Sites that have these mines may also have exploration holes, waste dumps, pits, and mine openings. As a result, the whole area is unsafe.

4. Underground storage tank failures

Underground storage tanks can fail due to faulty installation, operating procedures or maintenance systems. For example, a community gas station stores petroleum and hazardous substances in large underground storage tanks. When these tanks fail, it causes extensive land and groundwater contamination, posing a significant risk to the surrounding properties.

The consequences

Contaminated land poses hazards to the environment and our health.

Some sites might have lower levels of contamination, and therefore pose a lower threat. However, other sites may have high levels. In this case, the chemicals persist in the environment and expose themselves to living organisms.

Contaminated land needs proper management. Improper management leads to the exposure of humans to harm through the consumption, skin contact, or inhalation of contaminants.

How can I avoid land contamination?

You can avoid land contamination by controlling the release of hazardous wastes and chemicals into the environment. If land contaminants are suspected at any phase in a project, the cause should be identified and corrected to avoid ongoing risk.

Contaminated lands should also be managed effectively to prevent further risk. This management involves land clean-up to reduce the level of contaminants at the site.

If the contamination poses an immediate threat to humans and the environment, you should implement a risk-reduction strategy as soon as possible to eliminate the hazard.

How can I identify it?

Environmental consulting services, such as Envirofree, offer land contamination assessments. These assessments ensure that a site is not in danger of contamination.

For instance, a consulting service can perform remediation. In this process, experts revert contaminated land back to its original, pre-human chemical composition. This assessment ensures that your site poses the least risk to humans and other organisms.

Summary

Land contamination is the result of several reasons. Storage failures, chemical spills, or natural disasters can all contribute to the problem.

A site project needs proper management to lower the risks associated with contamination. It’s not just a matter of business – the entire ecosystem depends on it too.

Asbestos & Health Risks

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a group of naturally occurring silicate mineral fibers. These fibers readily resist heat, chemicals, electricity, and corrosion. As a result, it makes a popular additive to many products.

Unfortunately, asbestos fibers are highly toxic. When they are are breathed in or swallowed, it can result in serious illness.

This article explores:

  • the types of asbestos
  • what it looks like, and
  • the health risks of inhaling asbestos fibers.

Asbestos: the six types

Asbestos are mined from natural deposits around the world. They can then be processed into many products.

There are six main types of asbestos. They belong to either the amphibole or serpentine family. The serpentine family contains just one member of asbestos: the chrysotile type. The remaining five types form the amphibole family. The difference between these two families is in the nature and appearance of the fiber. Serpentine has long, pliable, and curly fibers. On the other hand, amphibole fibers are straight, stiff, and needle-like.

Let’s learn more about the six types.

types-of-asbestos

Chrysotile

Chrysotile (white asbestos) is the sole member of the serpentine family. This type of asbestos is the most abundant one. The construction sector has used it widely in roofs, ceilings, walls, and floors in homes and businesses. You’ll also find it in automobile brake linings, boiler seals and gaskets, as well as insulation for appliances, pipes, and ducts.

Amosite

Amosite (brown asbestos) is one of the most hazardous asbestos. It’s the second most commonly used type of asbestos and widely used in cement sheets and pipe insulation. The manufacture of thermal insulating products, insulating boards, and ceiling tiles also involve the use of amosite.

Crocidolite

Crocidolite (blue asbestos) is the most dangerous asbestos in the amphibole family. It has fine sharp fibers that humans can inhale easily. It’s commonly used to insulate steam engines, pipe insulation, cement, and plastic products. This type of asbestos could be responsible for more deaths and illnesses than any other type in the amphibole family.

Anthophyllite

Anthophyllite is one of the rarest forms of asbestos. It tends to have a white, dull green, or grey color, and contains iron and magnesium. Although you can’t find anthophyllite in consumer products, it’s found in some insulation materials and cement, as well as vermiculite and talc.

Tremolite

Tremolite is heat-resistant. It has several colors, from milky white to dark green. The mining of tremolite has ceased due to its link to many cases of asbestos-related cancer and diseases. However, some paints, sealants, plumbing, roofing, and insulation materials use this type of asbestos.

Actinolite

Actinolite is dark in color and has sharp fibers that can easily be inhaled. It comprises several materials, including iron, magnesium, silicon, and calcium. A variety of products such as sealants, cement, drywall, and paints use actinolite.

What does asbestos look like?

Because of its tiny fibers, asbestos is hard to find.

Under the microscope, asbestos fibers are long and thin, depending on its type. It looks like a ball of floss with a fine consistency. Serpentine absestos has long, pliable, and curly fibers, while amphibole types have fibers that are straight, stiff, and needle-like.

What are the health risks of asbestos?

Asbestos doesn’t cause any harm if it’s left alone.

However, asbestos fibers release into the air if asbestos-containing material is disturbed. Then, humans can inhale or swallow these fibers. The result? A risk of serious health issues. When humans inhale the fibers, they gradually damage the lungs. Because of this, an increased risk of mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, and other illnesses threaten the health of the person who has inhaled the asbestos.

Asbestosis is an example of a chronic lung disease caused by inhaling too many asbestos fibers.

The symptoms of asbestosis include:

  • A persistent, dry cough
  • shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Toes and fingertips that appear rounder and wider rounder than normal (clubbing)
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Loss of appetite with weight loss

The symptoms of asbestosis do not usually show up until after 20-30 years. Eventually, it leads to scarring of the lungs. Although treatment can alleviate symptoms, there is no cure for asbestosis.

Summary

Asbestos are fibers that bind together in a light (but indestructible) material. Asbestos is a very useful material, but it’s also hazardous to human health.

If asbestos on a property is enclosed and undisturbed, there’s no risk of exposure to asbestos. However, the greatest risk comes with damage to an asbestos-containing material. This releases fibers in the air where a human can then inhale them.

To prevent asbestos-related disease, limit asbestos exposure as much as possible in the workplace and on private properties.

Are you concerned that asbestos is on your property? Envirofree provides same-day asbestos testing, inspections and removal advice in Melbourne, Victoria.

The Envirofree Guide to Asbestos

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is the fibrous form of the mineral silicates belonging to the serpentine and amphibole groups of rock-forming minerals and includes actinolite, amosite (brown asbestos), anthophyllite, crocidolite (blue asbestos), chrysotile (white asbestos), tremolite or any material containing one or more of the mineral silicates belonging to the serpentine and amphibole groups. Prior to 1987, asbestos was widely used in building materials such as wall lining, vinyl floor tiles, eaves, corrugated roofing and fencing. These asbestos-containing materials are considered non-friable (bonded). Any asbestos-containing materials such as pipe, boiler and fire rating insulation that can be crumbled, pulverised or reduced to powder by hand pressure are considered friable.

What is a Hazardous Material?

A substance that poses a risk to your health or the environment is a hazardous substance. Examples of hazardous substances include asbestos, lead-in-paint, synthetic mineral fibre, polychlorinated biphenyls and chlorofluorocarbons. For a list of Australian classified hazardous substances please refer to the Hazardous Substances Information System.

Some helpful links about asbestos awareness in the workplace:

Asbestos: ABC News

Asbestos spread through their share house, but these women had to fight for months to get compensation.

I recently came across an ABC News Article which outlines the concerning state of asbestos in Victoria. It appears the lack of knowledge in our communities/workplaces is very low. It also highlights how widely spread asbestos problems are in Victoria and Australia. I have attached an ABC news article outlining a residential rental property disaster story. In the video, an occupational hygienist was commissioned to safely identify and implement control measures. The house was deemed contaminated following the cutting of the asbestos cement.

The occupants of the house were exposed to the harmful asbestos fibres for roughly two weeks after the works had been completed. The video demonstrates how important seeking professional advice from a Licensed Asbestos Assessor or Occupational Hygienist is prior to any demolition, renovation or refurbishment works.