Asbestos awareness - get in the know, take it slow and get a pro

Get a pro: Asbestos was used in thousands of building materials and becomes dangerous when damaged, disturbed or deteriorated. Contact a licenced professional if you need to manage or remove it. Photo: Shutterstock
Get a pro: Asbestos was used in thousands of building materials and becomes dangerous when damaged, disturbed or deteriorated. Contact a licenced professional if you need to manage or remove it. Photo: Shutterstock

While Marlon Brando lived long enough to see his 80th birthday, and James Dean died at just 24 in a car crash, it was pleural mesothelioma, a cancer associated with asbestos exposure, that took the life of Steve McQueen at the age of 50.

That was in 1980, and there is still no known cure for this or any other disease that exposure to airborne asbestos fibres can cause.

These diseases can take one or more decades to develop, and it is estimated that 4000 Australians die each year due to past exposure to asbestos fibres.

Asbestos fibres can be found in many things, including construction materials and insulation of any building made or renovated before 1990. In fact, it is estimated to still be present in a third of Australian homes.

The federal government's Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency says that asbestos-related diseases can be eliminated by preventing exposure to asbestos fibres.

"People working on homes built before 1990 can stay safe if they know where asbestos is, if they don't disturb or damage it, and if they seek professional help to locate, manage or remove it," said Justine Ross, CEO, Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency.

As such, to protect yourself, your family, friends, and your community, the agency is asking you to think twice about asbestos when doing home renovations or maintenance.

So, before you consider doing any DIY projects, big or small, the agency says you should follow these three simple steps.

1. Get in the know.

  • Find out whether your home was built or renovated before 1990. Asbestos was used in thousands of building materials at the time.

2. Take it slow.

  • Don't damage or disturb asbestos materials. This can release dangerous asbestos fibres into the air.

3. Get a pro.

  • Know your limits. Contact a licensed asbestos professional for advice on where the asbestos is located and how to manage or remove it.

Furthermore, "Even tradies need to call a licensed asbestos professional if they don't have the equipment, skills, training or licence to handle asbestos", Ross said.

The annual National Asbestos Awareness Week campaign (November 22 to 28) promotes the role of licensed asbestos professionals for both home renovators and tradespeople.

There is no safe level of exposure, and waste materials containing asbestos must be disposed of properly. You can't just dump them like normal rubbish.

So hand the task over to a local licenced professional who has done the training, has the right protective gear, and can properly dispose of it as well.

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