A safe home means a safe family and a safe community, which is why it is important that home renovators in the Hunter find out what they are dealing with before they start building and renovating.
One of the things to be on the lookout for is asbestos, particularly if you are about to launch into home improvements and parts of your home were built before 1990. Up to that time, it is very likely that your home will have some building materials that contain asbestos.
It can be dangerous if people renovate and start cutting, sanding, drilling, grinding or pulling up materials that contain asbestos.
You should seek out the right information such as from the NSW Government: via www.asbestos.nsw.gov.au before you reach for the power tools and disturb old building materials, potentially releasing harmful dust.
So what is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a generic term for a number of fibrous silicate rock-forming minerals.
As a naturally occurring rock fibre, asbestos was mined then broken down from mineral clumps into groups of loose fibres which were incorporated into building products.
Where can asbestos be found?
Buildings, houses and flats constructed before 1990 may contain asbestos. Examples of where asbestos can be commonly found in buildings include:
- fibro sheeting (commonly found in older garages, bathrooms, kitchens, laundries and external walls)
- roofs (including eaves and gables)
- vinyl tiles and backing
- drainage and flue pipes
- fences and garden edging.
Asbestos containing building products were phased out around the late 1980s and completely banned in Australia in 2003. Asbestos was used in more than 3000 common building materials. To search for products that may contain asbestos you can use the ‘Asbestos finder’ search function on the NSW Government website.
A number of other substances may be found particularly in older buildings that may present health risks if disturbed during renovation or demolition work including but not limited to:
- lead paint (often in paints used in houses built prior to 1970)
- synthetic mineral fibres (used for thermal and acoustic insulation, and reinforcing agents)
- polychlorinated biphenyls - PCBs (found in older fluorescent light fittings, transformers and capacitors).
Further information on the identification and management of hazardous substances can be found on the NSW Government website.
Removal and handling of asbestos as part of a development application
Council also normally requires, via conditions of consent, that a licensed asbestos removal contractor must be used for the removal of any asbestos as part of demolition that requires development approval.
Council also normally requires a Hazardous Substances Audit (and if hazardous substances are present, a Hazardous Substances Management Plan) be prepared for development applications that involve the demolition. This is a requirement of Australian Standard AS2601:2001 – The Demolition of Structures.
Removal and handling of asbestos that is not part of a development application
It is important to get advice about how to identify, remove and handle asbestos and hazardous substances properly.
Special care and management is needed even for small renovation jobs that don’t require a development application.
Council recommends you:
- treat all fibro sheets as if they contain asbestos unless tested, and
- use a licensed asbestos removal contractor to remove all materials containing asbestos.
Notifying neighbours of proposed asbestos removal works
Prior to undertaking any asbestos removal, Council recommends that you notify your neighbours of the commencement date and duration of the planned work.
Whilst proper asbestos removal practices should ensure neighbours are not placed at any significant risk, neighbours should still be notified of the works as they may wish to take extra precautions such as:
- minimising outdoor activities
- not hang washing on outdoor lines
- closing external doors and windows, and
- avoiding the use of ventilation systems that may introduce air from outside into the home.
Disposing of asbestos
Waste asbestos must be transported and disposed of lawfully at a licenced waste facility.
It is illegal to dispose of asbestos by burying it on private land without specific approval.
City of Newcastle’s Summerhill Waste Management Centre is licenced to receive asbestos waste.
Please be aware that special conditions apply to taking asbestos waste to a licenced facility. You must check and comply with these conditions prior to arriving at the facility with asbestos waste.
What do you do if you find asbestos in your home?
If asbestos containing material is in sound condition and left undisturbed it generally will not present a significant health risk and you do not usually need to remove it.
If you have building products at your home you suspect may contain asbestos and are concerned with potential health risks, Council recommends you contact an Occupational Hygienist, environmental consultant or other suitably qualified person to assess the material and provide you with expert advice.
Further information and advice can be found on the NSW Government: Asbestos fact sheet for homeowners and tenants.
Regulation of asbestos
Several agencies are responsible for regulating asbestos.
SafeWork NSW is responsible for the regulation of asbestos at places of work (such as construction sites) in accordance with the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011.
The storage, disposal and transport of asbestos waste is generally regulated by the NSW EPA or sometimes your local council depending on the specifics of the situation.
Local councils may apply and enforce Development Consent conditions regarding asbestos. Councils also respond to requests concerning public health risks associated with asbestos such as unsafe structures, illegal dumping, asbestos risks in public areas or contamination of land.
The NSW EPA or Council can issue a clean-up notice or prevention notice which may require landowners and/or polluters to take action to address pollution incidents.
City of Newcastle on 02 4974 2000 or contact WorkCover.