There are a lot of things people worry about during bushfire season. Of course they are worried for their safety, their homes and their property. But even after a bushfire has passed and an area is declared clear and safe, there is another threat that people need to be concerned about. It is a threat that can spread quickly, and while not an immediate threat can be just as deadly as bushfires, and that is asbestos.
Asbestos is a silent but deadly threat that most people are unaware of. This substance can cause a host of medical problems including lung cancer and mesothelioma, a cancer of the membrane surrounding the lungs, heart and other internal organs. And unknown to most, the threat of asbestos increases in the aftermath of a bushfire.
The Relation Between Bushfires and Asbestos
Asbestos was one of the most commonly used and found substances in construction materials for most of the 20th century. It is fireproof and extremely durable, and was often used to produce building materials that were resistant to chemicals, heat and electricity. Asbestos could be found in just about every part of a house or building: there was asbestos insulation, pipe lagging, asbestos in the flooring materials, in paints, plasters and panels, asbestos roof and ceiling products, and many more.
As long as the asbestos fibres found within these materials remain undisturbed, they pose no threat to our health. But once these construction materials are disturbed in any way and asbestos fibres are released into the air, the threat of asbestos becomes imminent.
Due to the devastation that bushfires can cause to homes and other properties, the risk of asbestos exposure increases significantly when there is a bushfire. This is why it is so important to prepare and protect yourself against asbestos exposure after a bushfire.
Protecting Against Asbestos Risks
Bushfires cause the loss of lives and enormous amounts of damage to be sure, but the smoke and toxic gases and substances that come from house fires can kill more people than the actual flames do. One of those toxic substances is asbestos.
So what must you do at the threat of asbestos exposure after a bushfire?
- If your home or property has burned down, do not rummage through the debris until you are 100% certain that it is free from asbestos. Asbestos fibres are microscopic, with tens of thousands clustered together appearing as just a spec– and it only takes a few fibres to cling to your lungs permanently and cause asbestos related diseases. If you rummage through the debris from a bushfire, any asbestos fibres there will become airborne and can easily be inhaled. So before you do anything, make sure to have the area inspected by a qualified asbestos testing professional. Only through professional asbestos testing can the presence of asbestos be identified within a premises.
- If asbestos has been found, have professional asbestos removalists remove the chemical from the area. Do not attempt to do this by yourself as you may only risk exposure.
- Even if asbestos has not been found within your property, fibres could still travel through the wind from nearby areas that have also been damaged by the bushfire. Should you need to go outdoors, make sure to wear a facepiece respirator with a filter rating designation of 100. Do not go outside with just a regular disposable face mask. Only a P-100 or N-100 respirator can filter 99.97% of airborne particles and
- protect you against microscopic asbestos particles in the air.
- If you are part of the cleanup crew, make sure to wear the aforementioned respirator and protective clothing, preferably disposable ones. Wear a helmet to prevent fibres from attaching to hair, safety glasses or goggles, gloves and protective boots.
- If items must be moved, wet everything first so fibres are less likely to become airborne. Minimise as much as possible the movement and removal of materials that could trigger the release of dust and asbestos fibres into the air.
- Thoroughly wash and shower once done removing any debris from the site, and dispose of your clothes or protective clothing. This limits the spread of asbestos fibres that may have attached to you or your clothes.
- If you are not ordered to evacuate, stay indoors with the windows, doors and any other openings secured. Remain indoors until emergency services advises otherwise.
As we approach bushfire season, let’s remember to take precautionary measures not just to keep ourselves safe from bushfires, but also to protect ourselves from asbestos exposure afterwards. Should you need more information on how to identify asbestos and require professional assistance in its identification and removal, please don’t hesitate to call Asbestos Check on 02 9621 3706.