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Australia has been ranked amongst the world's top consumers of asbestos cement products per capita due to its strength, durability and resistance to fire and water.  Asbestos products were used in almost every brick, weatherboard, fibro or clad home built or renovated before 1987.

Most people can't tell whether materials contain asbestos just by looking at them. Products that may contain asbestos include vinyl floor tiles, cement roof sheeting and wall lining, lagging and jointing material and fire blankets.

The use of all forms of asbestos has been banned in Australia since the end of 2003 - this means that the import, manufacture, supply, sale and use or reuse of asbestos and asbestos-containing products is no longer permitted. The ban doesn't apply to asbestos installed prior to this date (e.g, in residential or commercial buildings).

There is a potential risk, when building materials containing asbestos are disturbed or damaged, that dangerous dust and fibres can be inhaled. Symptoms of asbestos dust-related disease do not usually appear until about 20 to 30 years after the first exposure. Australia has one of the highest rates of asbestos-related disease in the world.

There are legal and safety requirements for the management of asbestos. It is imperative that these are followed to protect your health and that of your family, and to avoid costly fines or clean-up costs. Before commencing any home maintenance work or renovation, it is advisable to visit the Asbestos Awareness website, and other useful links listed below for important information and guidance.

Bonded and friable asbestos

Bonded asbestos fibres are mixed into another material, which binds or bonds them within the material.  Bonded asbestos cannot be crumbled, pulverised or reduced to a powder by hand pressure when dry.

Common uses for bonded asbestos in buildings include: flat (fibro), corrugated (roofing) or compressed asbestos cement sheets, water, drainage and flue pipes, and floor tiles.

If fire, hail or direct activities such as water blasting and drilling damages bonded asbestos, it may become friable asbestos material.

Friable asbestos material is any material that contains asbestos and is in the form of a powder or can be crumbled, pulverised or reduced to powder by hand pressure when dry.

Friable asbestos was not commonly used in the home; it was mainly used in industrial applications such as pipe lagging, sprayed limpet and asbestos cloth and rope.

Friable asbestos can only be removed by a licensed asbestos removalist with a friable asbestos licence.

For a list of available licensed holders, visit SafeWork NSW's website.

'Mr Fluffy' friable asbestos insulation

Loose-fill asbestos was sold as ceiling insulation in the 1960s and 1970s for residential and commercial premises, mainly by one company trading as 'Mr Fluffy'.

The friable loose asbestos fibres were pumped into the roof cavities of many houses in the Canberra, Queanbeyan and surrounding regions.  Houses built in Eurobodalla Shire before 1980 may potentially contain 'Mr Fluffy' asbestos insulation.

In 2014, the NSW Government confirmed its response to loose-fill asbestos insulation in New South Wales homes; this included the announcement of a package for affected home owners. In accordance with the interim findings of the Heads of Asbestos Coordination Authorities, some immediate options are being offered to affected residents to ensure their safety - further information is available on NSW Government Fair Trading's website.

Removal and disposal of asbestos

If you use appropriate safety precautions, you are permitted to remove a maximum of 10sq m of bonded asbestos in New South Wales. However, if removing more, you must hire a qualified asbestos removalist, or obtain a SafeWork NSW bonded asbestos removal licence.  Friable or loose asbestos must be removed by a qualified asbestos remover and not by the homeowner. For a list of available licensed holders, refer to SafeWork NSW's website.

Asbestos is classified as a hazardous material. There are strict guidelines about how it should be packaged and transported, and where it can be disposed. Asbestos waste can only be disposed of at landfills licensed to accept such waste. In Eurobodalla Shire, asbestos waste can be disposed of at Brou and Surf Beach Waste Management Facilities. The asbestos must be wet down, wrapped in thick plastic or double wrapped, taped down and clearly labelled as asbestos. It is required that 24 hours' notice be given to the landfill prior to receiving; refer to Council's 'waste education publications' webpage for more guidance on correct disposal procedures.

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