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What is Asbestos?

Have you heard about asbestos? If you read and following some news, asbestos might give a shiver to your spine because many people died from diseases related to asbestos. But what is it actually?

Asbestos is a generic term refers to a mineral that can be found in rocks and soil. This fibrous mineral occurred naturally. The name ‘asbestos’ derives from Greek term ἄσβεστος, which means “inextinguishable” or “unquenchable”. This fibrous mineral is categorised into two groups, serpentine and amphibole.

  • Serpentine class fibres are curly and develop in tiered or layered form. There is only one member of serpentine, which is chrysotile that is also known as the white asbestos.
  • Amphibole class fibres are looking more like a needle and the structure is like a chain. Amphibole, on the other hand, has five members, including amosite or often known as brown asbestos, tremolite, crocidolite, anthophyllite, and actinolite.


Theses six types of asbestos contain chemical and physical differences, but they have something in common, all of them are recognised as a carcinogen and have been proven to be dangerous to human health.


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Friable Vs Non-Friable

Asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) are grouped into two categories: friable and non-friable

Friable refers to the ACM that can be reduced to powder easily only by the hand pressure when it is dry. It is more likely to release plenty of fibres when it is disturbed. Commonly, it will pose an extreme risk to the human and surrounding environment. Examples of friable ACMs include:

  • Boiler insulation
  • Pipe lagging
  • Sprayed insulation
  • Fire retardant material on steel work


Non-friable or also known as the bonded type is made from a bonding compound of cement mixed with a small-scale of asbestos, at around 15%. Bonded ACMs are rigid, solid and non-friable which means they cannot be crushed, or pulverised or even reduced to powder by a hand power. This type of material normally does not release its fibres into the air, unless it changed into the friable type when it is broken or badly deteriorated. Examples of non-friable includes:

  • Asbestos cement (AC) sheet
  • AC moulded products
  • Vinyl floor tiles
  • Bitumen-based waterproofing


When Did People Start Using the ACM?

Since the late 1880s, friable products have normally been used in industrial and commercial settings. The products were used for soundproofing, insulation, and fireproofing. Other products of friable ACMs are still possible to be found in residential buildings built before 1990.

In 1920s, AC materials were first produced in Australia and became normally used in the manufacture of housing materials from the mid-1940s until the end of 1980s.


Asbestos Use in Perth

Perth is known as the capital of asbestos of the world because of the extensive use of this fibrous material after the World War II. Almost every house built prior to 1987 contain ACMs and AC, which is popular by the name fibro. These materials can be found in almost all suburbs in Perth.

Besides the extensive use of this material in all over the state, the blue ACM or also called crocidolite was also mined in the town of Wittenoom that is located in the States’s North West. It is one of the most beautiful yet tragic areas in the state due to the mining of asbestos that eventually leads to the deaths of people who inhabited the town. It was finally banned from being manufactured or used on 31st of December, 2003.


Asbestos Risks

In Wittenoom, the mining of this fibrous material had taken the life of so many people. When the asbestos is disturbed or damaged, it can produce fibres. The fibres are very tiny and thin compared to the human hair. If the fibres are inhaled, they enter the respiratory system that includes the lining of the lungs as well as the inner cavity tissue. Because the fibres are commonly quite rigid, they become resided in the soft internal tissue of our respiratory system and are not easily expelled or broken down by our body.

Asbestos has caused several diseases to human, including:

  • Asbestosis
  • Lung cancer
  •  Mesothelioma


Smokers are more possibly to get a lung cancer when they are exposed to asbestos fibres. The symptoms of asbestos-related diseases will not develop until 20 to 30 years after the initial exposure.


Where Can You Find ACMs at Home?

ACM products can be found everywhere in a house that was built or renovated before the mid-1980s. The possibility of its presence in the house is higher. Houses that were built during the mid-190s until the 1990s also contain fibrous materials. Only those that were built after the 1990s that are unlikely to contain ACMs.

Asbestos products can be found in every part of a house, including:

  • Roof
  • Ceiling
  • Fencing
  • Gutter
  • Eaves
  • Wall sheeting
  • Vinyl sheet flooring
  • Underlay of carpet and tile
  • Window putty
  • Garden
  • Carports
  • Dog kennel
  • Waterproof membrane


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Identifying Asbestos

If your house belongs to the category of an old house as mentioned above, you need to check the presence of this material in your home by performing a test. The test can be done by a licenced professional or an individual. However, the safest method to do it is by engaging a qualified professional.

To identify the material, the first thing to do is collecting samples. Later, the samples are sent to a laboratory, better choose a NATA accredited laboratory, for analysing because the fibres cannot be recognised only by looking at them without using a microscope. The result of the test will be listed in a document called asbestos register, which includes the information related to the location and type of fibrous materials found in your property.


How to Manage Asbestos

For a person who is in charge of managing or controlling a building, especially those belong to the older building category that is identified to be installed with materials containing deadly fibres, having an asbestos management plan or AMP is really crucial.

AMP can help the person in managing the fibrous products within the building to prevent people of being exposed to the airborne fibres. The management plan should consist of:

  • The identification of ACMs.
  • Option and reason about the management of ACMs.
  • Techniques to handle incidents or emergencies that are related to ACMs.
  • Information of people working with material containing dangerous fibres.


Asbestos Removal

Asbestos removal is a solution that is mostly recommended for houses or buildings that are contaminated with fibrous materials. To perform the removal, you need to engage a licensed removalist that has the expertise and experience also have followed some training. Be sure that the person you hire has an accredited licence.

There are two types of licence for an asbestos professional, they are:

  • Class A licence that authorised its’ holder to remove friable asbestos.
  • Class B licence that authorised its’ holder to remove non-friable asbestos.


Safe Disposal

Asbestos must be disposed of following the regulations set by the local council. The waste of fibrous material has to be disposed of to a legal landfill area. There are some requirements before you dispose of the material, including:

  • Double bag the waste using a black plastic bag.
  • Seal the package using a tape.
  • Label the package as asbestos.

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