Up until the mid 1980's, products containing asbestos were commonly used in construction here in Australia. By the late 80's, use began to slow as asbestos-containing products were phased out in favour of asbestos free products. In 2003 a total asbestos ban was introduced, preventing the mining, manufacture, export, import or sale of asbestos products in Australia.
The 2003 asbestos ban was fairly comprehensive; however, it couldn't remove the large amount of asbestos already in Australia's housing supply. Today, homeowners who own a property built or renovated before 1990 should be aware that there is a high chance of their home containing asbestos in one form or another.
Although friable asbestos - the most common type of asbestos found in Sydney homes is relatively harmless if intact, renovation activities can cause damage and release deadly asbestos fibres into the air as a result. Renovation activities like sanding, grinding, drilling, water blasting or cutting can all cause this.
In the past Australian's diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma - a diseased caused by inhaling airborne asbestos fibres, - were those that were exposed through their work, but this is shifting and a growing body of evidence shows that renovators are at high risk of asbestos related diseases such as mesothelioma. A 2014 report released by the Australia Mesothelioma Registry supports this, revealing that of the 350 people diagnosed with mesothelioma during that year, 37.2% of those diagnosed were home renovators.
Overall Australia has one of the highest rates of Mesothelioma in the developed world. Although there is no straight forward answer as to 'why' this is the case, the explanation could lie in the large amount of asbestos in our housing supply, the Aussie 'can do' attitude and a general disregard for the risks associated with asbestos exposure.
In order to combat this, if you are considering renovating your home get educated and consider getting a licensed asbestos inspector or occupational hygienist to identify and remove any products containing asbestos that could be in your home.
If you want to find out more about renovating a dwelling containing asbestos National Asbestos Awareness Month has a great selection of free resources you can check out.