How asbestos is assessed

Assessing the danger: Where asbestos is identified, it is important to determine the contamination area. Photo: Shutterstock
Assessing the danger: Where asbestos is identified, it is important to determine the contamination area. Photo: Shutterstock

Asbestos assessor and principal consultant Ryan Heckenberg was asked about the dangers of asbestos and why it is important for asbestos to be assessed by a NATA accredited laboratory and removed by a licensed asbestos removal contractor.

Q: Why is asbestos dangerous to health? What are the dangers of ignoring it?

Asbestos is a group of minerals that occur naturally and tend to form very fine fibres. These asbestos minerals used to be mined out of the ground just like coal is today. They were then processed and used in many different products both for industry and around the home.

Asbestos is known to cause cancer, predominantly cancers associated with the lungs. This is because the asbestos minerals can get past the body's natural defences against normal dust particles (asbestos is much finer than the dust that we're used to).

Once past the body's natural defences, the fibres can reach deep into the lungs where they lodge permanently.

There is a clear "dose-response" relationship with asbestos, meaning that the more asbestos fibres that are inhaled, the greater the risk of contracting an asbestos related disease.

Normally asbestos related disease is associated with very high exposures to asbestos over very long periods of time.

In Australia we are fortunately mostly aware of the hazard posed by asbestos and it's usually taken very seriously. Most exposure incidents that we see today are associated with asbestos that had not been identified. This is why it's most important to have your renovation project inspected by a professional prior to starting.

Q: What testing can be done? How is asbestos removed?

The licensed asbestos assessor/NATA accredited lab is involved in identifying the asbestos and deciding how it should be managed while the asbestos removal contractor actually physically does the asbestos removal.

Asbestos testing by law in Australia needs to be tested by a NATA accredited laboratory. You should expect to pay around $60 per test.

It's always best to insist on a licensed asbestos assessor for the inspection - this way you can be more confident that the person conducting the inspection has experience in identifying and managing asbestos materials.

Asbestos should always be removed by a licensed asbestos removal contractor.

There are so many different kinds of materials that can contain asbestos fibres so a homeowner should have the house inspected and tested by a NATA accredited laboratory and then go from there.

If you find something during the renovation that was hidden, this should also be checked.

It is essential that asbestos is only disturbed by properly trained and experienced people. All asbestos work is conducted very carefully so that it is dust-free and all workers wear specialist protective equipment.

You should expect to pay around $70/sqm for easily accessible fibro walls and up to about $90/sqm for more difficult areas such as ceilings.

Q: Is asbestos training important?

Yes, asbestos awareness training is important so that people are aware of the risks posed.

But it's most important to have a professional with experience investigate your site or house prior to starting work. This is the best way to ensure that the asbestos hazards are properly identified so that there aren't any accidental exposures.

Ryan Heckenberg, Clearsafe Environmental Solutions Pty Ltd (NATA accreditation 18542).

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