Healthy living

Asbestos cement products in your home

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous crystalline mineral, found in rock formations.

After mining, the mineral was further processed by breaking down clumps of fibres into groups of loose fibres.

Asbestos was mixed with other materials to produce a variety of products.

What is asbestos cement?

Asbestos cement is produced by mixing:

  • asbestos fibres
  • Portland cement
  • water.

The asbestos fibre was added as reinforcement, to increase the strength of the product.

Asbestos cement products typically contain 10 to 15 per cent asbestos fibre by weight.

When was asbestos used?

Asbestos cement products were commonly manufactured in WA from 1921 to 1987.

  • The use of crocidolite (blue asbestos) ceased in 1966.
  • Most uses of amosite (brown asbestos) ceased in May 1984.
  • The use of chrysotile (white asbestos) was phased out between 1981 and 1987.
  • Manufacturing of all asbestos products ceased in 1987.

Asbestos in your home

  • In most cases, the presence of asbestos cement building materials in a home is no cause for alarm.
  • If the materials are in good condition, and are not disturbed, they do not present a health hazard.
  • Disturbing the material (e.g. by removal) may create a health hazard where none previously existed.

Coating asbestos cement products

It is not necessary to coat asbestos cement products on health grounds.

However, the application of a surface coating may extend the structural life of the products and improve their appearance.

  • Paints may be used to coat unweathered surfaces such as internal walls.
  • Sealants should be used on weathered products such as roofs as they are:
    • capable of penetrating the surface of the product
    • binding the asbestos fibres to the lower cement layers.
  • Choose a product that is specifically designed for use on asbestos cement material that can:
    • provide a life of 10 years or more
    • be easily over-coated without the need to remove the lower layers.
  • The coating must not require the asbestos cement to be vigorously cleaned before it is applied. If cleaning is necessary (e.g. to remove dead moss and algae):
    • a surface biocide can be applied, then removed using water and gentle brushing (with a soft bristled brush)
    • the material must be kept wet at all times.
  • Avoid sanding, scraping or the use of high pressure water blasters and stiff brooms to clean asbestos cement products – these can release significant numbers of fibres.

To prepare painted asbestos cement surfaces for recoating, lightly wet and scrub the existing paint with an appropriate abrasive. Take care not to scrub through the paint surface.

The surface should be kept wet at all times throughout the procedure.

Renovating buildings containing asbestos cement products

Special precautions must be taken when renovating buildings containing asbestos cement products, to prevent fibres entering the atmosphere.

If possible, asbestos cement material must not be:

  • broken
  • abraded
  • disturbed.

If it is necessary to cut holes in asbestos cement material, only use:

  • non-powered hand tools
  • power tools that incorporate dust suppression or dust extraction attachments that are specifically designed to collect asbestos fibres.

The material should be kept wet, or other practical measures taken to keep the creation of airborne fibres to a minimum.

Suitable personal protective equipment should be worn including:

  • P1 or P2 respirator
  • disposable coveralls
  • safety goggles
  • disposable gloves

Any debris must be cleaned up using a wet mop, or a vacuum cleaner fitted with a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. For clean-up, do not:

  • dust
  • sweep
  • brush.

If significant cutting or abrasion of the material is required, the asbestos cement material should be removed, and replaced with non-asbestos materials. If in doubt, seek advice from a building consultant.

How to safely remove and dispose of asbestos products

Special precautions must be taken when removing asbestos cement products. You may:

  • seek the services of an asbestos removal contractor
  • choose to remove the material yourself.

If you choose to remove the material yourself, you are required to comply with the Health (Asbestos) Regulations 1992 (external site).

The following precautions should be followed when removing and disposing of asbestos:

  • remove all movable furniture and fittings from the room
  • turn off heating/air conditioning systems
  • isolate the area and prevent access to members of the public, family, etc.
  • wear suitable personal protective equipment:
    • P1 or P2 respirator
    • disposable coveralls
    • safety goggles
    • disposable gloves
  • prior to removal, gently spray the asbestos cement with water or a poly vinyl acetate (PVA) solution, to minimise the creation of airborne dust – CAUTION an asbestos cement roof can be very slippery when wet
  • remove the asbestos cement products with minimal breakage:
    • do not use excess force
    • only use non-powered hand tools
  • stack the asbestos cement sheets on 0.2 mm thick polythene (plastic) sheeting – to prevent releasing fibres:
    • avoid sliding the sheets together
    • wrap plastic around the material and seal it into bundles
  • small pieces of asbestos cement can be collected in heavy duty polyethylene bags, approximately 0.02 mm thick – bags should be filled to no more than 50 per cent capacity
  • label or mark the bundles with the words caution asbestos in lettering at least 40 mm high
  • clean up any residue material using a wet mop or a vacuum cleaner fitted with a HEPA filter. Do not use an ordinary household vacuum cleaner.
  • dispose of asbestos material at an approved landfill site.

Note: a list of approved site can be obtained from the Department of Health. You must inform the operator of the site that the waste is or contains asbestos on arrival.

Removal asbestos fences

The entire structure of asbestos fencing must be removed. This will prevent the surrounding soil from being contaminated.

  • Dig a trench around the fence.
  • Make sure you do not dig into the fence and break up the material.
  • Remove the entire sheet.
  • Wrap in labelled polythene sheeting.
  • Dispose of promptly.

Further steps you must follow when removing vinyl flooring

The Department of Health recommends that you seek the services of an approved asbestos removal contractor when removing vinyl flooring.

If possible, floor surfaces should be left in place and covered with non-asbestos containing finishes.

When it is necessary to remove the floor surfaces the following steps should be taken.

  • Make a series of parallel cuts, approximately 20 cm apart, across the entire floor surface, cutting through the top layer and through the backing using a blade.
  • Prise up the corner of the end strip using a stiff blade scraper and gently spray with water mixed with detergent as work progresses.
  • Roll and dispose of one strip at a time.
  • Continue in a systematic manner across the floor surface, placing removed sections into labelled polythene sheeting or asbestos waste bags without delay.
  • Removal may also be assisted by thoroughly heating the floor or wall covering, using a hot air gun to penetrate through the material and soften the adhesive.
    • Residual adhesive materials and/or backing may also need to be scraped or cut back.
  • Water sprays should again be used.
  • If solvents are required to remove stubborn sections then use sparingly.
  • Do not apply as a spray, ensure good ventilation and wear an appropriate respirator fitted with organic vapour filters.
  • Work in cool atmospheric conditions if possible, and ensure that electrical appliances and heat sources are removed from the work area. If wet, allow the underlying floor surface to dry, then thoroughly vacuum with the HEPA vacuum cleaner.
  • Used HEPA filters and disposable attachments should be treated as asbestos contaminated waste and disposed of promptly into labelled asbestos bags.

How to maintain an asbestos roof

Asbestos cement roofs should be regularly maintained, using the following procedures:

  • Inspect asbestos cement roofs regularly for signs of deterioration and damage.
  • Clean gutters and drains annually by thoroughly wetting the waste material and collecting it in heavy duty plastic bags for disposal at a landfill accepting asbestos waste.
  • Prune all trees and branches 600 mm away from asbestos cement roofing.
  • Do not clean the roof unless absolutely necessary. If cleaning is necessary (e.g. to remove dead moss and algae):
    • a surface biocide can be applied,
    • then removed using water and gentle brushing (with a soft bristled brush)
    • during this procedure, the material must be kept wet at all times.

Health (Asbestos) Regulations 1992

The Health (Asbestos) Regulations 1992 make it an offence to sell, give away or supply second-hand asbestos material.

The Regulations also control the handling and use of materials containing asbestos, to protect the public from uncontrolled fibres release into the environment.

You must take all reasonable measures to ensure asbestos fibres are not released into the air.

Caution:

  • Excessive application of heat may give rise to toxic fumes from some vinyl floor/wall surfaces.
  • Good ventilation and/or additional respiratory protection may become necessary.

More information

Remember

  • The asbestos fibre was added as reinforcement, to increase the strength of the asbestos cement products.
  • Asbestos cement products were commonly manufactured in WA from 1921 to 1987.
  • In most cases, the presence of asbestos cement building materials in a home is no cause for alarm.
  • Special precautions must be taken when removing asbestos cement products.