We’ve all heard the song Blue Sky Mine by Midnight Oil, it is a political piece that reminds us of the dangers of asbestos, asbestos mining, and how the mining giants were not protecting the Australian population from harmful elements.
Released in 1980, the song refers to the miners and residents of Wittenoom, and the blue asbestos that was mined there. Today the town is still so contaminated, that it’s been removed from the map, the residents relocated, and all access blocked.
This highlights how dangerous asbestos can be… But what is asbestos really, and where can you find it?
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a natural occurring silicate, and is composed of thin fibrous crystals. It’s these crystals that are the main cause for concern, as they can break apart in millions of microscopic fibrils once exposed. These fibrils cause lung conditions, including asbestosis and cancer.
Today, the use of asbestos is illegal, and in most first world countries, Australia included, it is already removed from most public buildings. Unfortunately, with the demolition and refurbishment of older buildings, workers are still finding traces of asbestos in the pipes, insulation and the construction of these older structures.
The reason we used asbestos in the first place, is mainly because of its qualities; asbestos is an excellent electrical insulator, it is highly heat resistant, and it was used almost everywhere in the building industry.
Asbestos was a wonder product in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, when production peaked, but once doctors found the connection tying exposure to asbestos and lung disease, or lung cancer, the product fell from grace.
Asbestos was banned in Australia in the late sixties, but by that time the damage was done, with almost two out of every three post war homes containing asbestos. Many still do, and unless disturbed, it is probably not a big concern.
The biggest issue posed by asbestos, is normally for the tradesmen and women who unknowingly attend to repair roofing, removing pipes, or simply work in the roof cavity. Because they work with these materials on a daily basis, it is essential that they can identify the risk early on.
How to identify asbestos at a home?
Unfortunately, it is not that easy to identify asbestos simply by looking for it. To confirm if a home or building site is contaminated with asbestos products, a NATA accredited test will need to be conducted.
If you think there may be asbestos present, then you must treat it with the utmost respect and professional protocol. All friable asbestos must be removed by a Class A licenced asbestos remover.
There are a few steps you can take to confirm if it is indeed asbestos:
- Visit the online Asbestos Product Database. This database offers a photo gallery featuring many of the common asbestos products commonly found in homes.
- Download the Residential Asbestos Checklist for Tradies. This is a must have for any tradesman worth his salt.
Asbestos Q and A
- Do I need to remove all asbestos from my home?
- No, if the asbestos products are in a good condition, and for asbestos cement sheeting (fibro), a good coat of paint will do the job of protecting you from any harmful dust.
- How do I know if my home contains asbestos?
- If your home was built before 1987, then it is likely that it will contain asbestos products.
- What are the common asbestos products around the house?
- There are many products that contain asbestos, with the most common being fibro sheeting used on internal walls and for cladding, electrical switchboards, water draining pipes, roof shingles and guttering, and some homes might still have asbestos insulation in the ceiling spaces.
- What is the best way to dispose of asbestos?
- Asbestos is classed as a toxic product, and councils have designated areas allocated for asbestos disposal. It is best to contact your local council before moving any asbestos products. It is advisable to always make use of a licenced asbestos removal company, as there are many rules to adhere to, and they will be aware of all the local legislation.
Asbestos is all around us, at home, school, at work, and in many industrial and commercial building sites. It is important that we do the right thing for our family, neighbours or staff.
Be prepared, and educate yourself with the importance of asbestos removal, asbestos soil remediation, asbestos disposal, and the best way to handle asbestos decontamination.
So, the next time you hear Midnight Oil singing Blue Sky Mine on the radio, think of the residents and miners of Wittenoom, the town and mine that inspired the song, and all the residents, miners and their families who suffered from asbestosis and other lung diseases.
Choosing your asbestos removalist
It really helps to know that asbestos can be safely removed and discarded by NATA accredited contractors.
The amount of asbestos, and type of asbestos, that can be removed by an asbestos removalist depends on the class of licence they carry.
The Class A asbestos removal licence allows for the removal of all asbestos containing materials, including friable (ACD), and non-friable asbestos (ACM).
The Class B asbestos removal licence lets holders remove all non-friable asbestos containing materials (ACM).
A contractor without a licence may only remove 10m2 of non-friable asbestos.
When in doubt, get a professional to investigate if your site is asbestos safe.
Luckily all modern homes and workplaces are now free from asbestos products, and we can live, and breathe safely. As for the older homes, we now have a better idea on how to be asbestos safe.
If you suspect that there might be asbestos, or traces of asbestos, on your property or building site, then contact us today, we are NATA accredited contractors. We are equipped with all the latest testing, collecting and removal equipment to successfully deal with your old asbestos products.
Our staff are fully trained and will follow all the necessary precautions to safeguard you, your family, staff and neighbours from any asbestos traces.