Asbestos – a guide for householders and the general public (referred to here as ‘the guide’) is a risk management document, designed to assist householders reduce the risks associated with exposure to asbestos fibres. It was developed by the Environmental Health Standing Committee (enHealth), in consultation with technical experts and with input from other government agencies. enHealth is made up of representatives from each state and territory government environmental health unit, and the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA).
The guide was developed in response to the high volume of individual householders enquiries received by state and territory environmental health units in relation to asbestos identification and management. It was developed over two years including focus group testing and consultation with a number of organisations including local governments, state and territory work cover departments, other government agencies and asbestos-related disease organisations. The scientific information in the guide is based on an earlier enHealth publication, Management of asbestos in a non-occupational environment, published in 2005 and available on the DoHA website.
- Inhaling asbestos fibres may cause asbestos-related disease and death.
- Houses built before 1990 are likely to contain asbestos cement products.
- The health risk of undisturbed asbestos cement products in the home is very low.
- Householders should engage experienced and licensed professionals to undertake home renovations and asbestos removal.
- Householders who choose to do their own renovation or ‘DIY’ work should follow the advice provided in this guide carefully to reduce the health risk to them and their families to a very low level.
The human health effects from exposure to asbestos are well documented. In this guide, the likelihood of developing an asbestos-related disease from breathing in asbestos fibres is called the ‘risk’. The risk of developing asbestos-related disease, like lung cancer, from asbestos exposure is associated with the level and duration of exposure, length of time since first exposure, the fibre type, and concurrent exposure to tobacco smoke and other carcinogens. Not all factors are well understood, and we do not yet know why some people develop an asbestos-related disease and others do not; however, the risk increases with the exposure to asbestos fibres.
This guide and enHealth recommend householders to engage experienced and licensed professionals to undertake home renovations, but acknowledges that some people will choose to do their own renovations. The guide therefore contains information to help householders make decisions about the risks associated with exposure to asbestos-containing materials in their home. It also contains practical information to lower the risks of exposure; however, if in doubt, always seek assistance from a licensed professional.