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If you are buying or selling a property built prior to 1990, asbestos may be an issue you need to consider. Asbestos was previously used in many building elements due to its strength, fire and water resistance, and insulating properties. These days it is no longer used due to the health risks it carries for serious lung diseases and cancers – such as asbestosis and mesothelioma.

Where was asbestos used?

Asbestos was considered so useful that it was utilised in many industry applications. In buildings, asbestos may be found in the following areas:

  • Walls – for example wall cladding (fibro), and artificial brick cladding.
  • Roofs – cement roofing, shingles, eaves, roof gable-ends, and roof membranes.
  • Insulation – spray-on thermal insulation and insulating board.
  • Pipes – such as underground pipes and downpipes.
  • Flooring underlay or backings – for instance carpet underlay made from hessian bags previously used for transporting asbestos.
  • Fabrics – such as heat-resistant cloth and linings.
  • Fillers and sealants – including adhesives and window putty.
  • Air conditioners – e.g. in ductwork and re-heating units.

In some properties, asbestos is found in the soil due to contamination. This may occur when asbestos products used in construction deteriorate or are damaged during renovations or demolitions.

What’s the risk to health?

Bonded asbestos does not usually post a risk as long as it is intact and is left undisturbed. The problem occurs when asbestos becomes what is known as ‘friable’ or no longer tightly bonded, such as during renovations or modifications, and the tiny fibres become airborne.

According to the Victorian Government’s asbestos site, breathed-in fibres that lodge in the lungs may lead to asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma. There is no designated ‘safe level’ of exposure to asbestos dust. While continued and repeated exposure carries the biggest risk, in some people even brief exposure can lead to asbestos-related disease.

If you suspect a property you are buying or selling contains asbestos, you might want to consider asbestos inspection and testing. It’s essential you do not attempt to identify asbestos yourself, but that you get it done by a professional licensed asbestos consultant who has the relevant qualifications, experience and equipment.

In an asbestos inspection, a consultant will identify the likelihood of asbestos-containing material within a property, and take product samples for testing. Testing is done in an NATA-accredited laboratory, and involves identifying asbestos fibres under a polarising light microscope. There is no other reliable way of testing for asbestos – a visual inspection alone can’t confirm the presence of asbestos.

Why have inspections or testing done?

As we all know, buying a home is a major investment. Even if you have no immediate intention of renovating, an inspection means you will know where any asbestos is located on the property for future reference. It also alerts you to any risk from the material and helps you decide if asbestos removal is required.

If you are selling, inspections and testing may provide a good selling point. Buyers may be keener to buy if they know a property does not contain asbestos, or that any it does contain is intact and undamaged.

To find out more property asbestos testing and inspections, feel free to get in contact with our office.