Why Asbestos Testing Is So Important to Health and Safety

 03/02/2015

Asbestos is likely to be present in buildings and other forms of construction built before 1985. The use of asbestos in buildings, homes and ceilings was common because of how asbestos was a cheap material to purchase, durable, heat resistant and had insulating properties.

Asbestos can be firmly-bound or loosely-bound in homes and other building constructions. Firmly-bound asbestos (non-friable asbestos) is material composed of asbestos fibres embedded in a hardened cement matrix. Firmly-bound asbestos has in the past been frequently used for the following areas of building construction:

  • Cement sheeting - Corrugated and flat cement roofing
  • Exterior fibre cement cladding (AC or fibro), weatherboards, roof shingles and siding (villaboard)
  • Imitation brick cladding
  • Vinyl (PVC) floor tiles and coverings, eave linings, bathroom linings and or in the backing of linoleum floor coverings or cement tile underlay
  • Thermal boards around fireplaces
  • Water and flue pipes
  • Fencing
  • Eaves

Loosely-bound or ‘friable’ asbestos is material which is quite soft and loose, so that it can be crumbled or reduced to a powder form by hand pressure. While ‘friable’ asbestos was not often used in homes and residential construction, friable asbestos can still be found in:

  • Insulation on hot water pipes, boilers, stoves and old domestic heaters
  • Loose fill roof and ceiling insulation
  • Spray-on insulation or soundproofing
  • Heat resistant fabrics
  • Textured paints, decorative ceilings and coatings

Unfortunately, evidence has demonstrated the hazardous nature of asbestos and its health risk to people and workers. Asbestos has mostly affected people who were exposed to it in its solid and pulverised form for extended periods.

How can people be affected by asbestos?

People can be affected when asbestos containing material is disturbed, so that asbestos fibres are released in the air and inhaled. Instances of asbestos containing material being disturbed include home renovation projects where drilling, cutting, sawing and various other actions cause the asbestos containing material to break or crumble.    

This is why you need to carry out asbestos testing before you begin any home renovations. It is also important that other constructions including office buildings and other commercial constructions are tested for the presence of asbestos before any building renovations and demolition activities do commence.

Dangers of Asbestos

Asbestos only poses a risk to health when asbestos fibres are breathed in. When asbestos fibres are breathed in, the asbestos fibres can lodge deep in the lung tissue and eventually result in inflammation, scarring and some more serious asbestos related diseases. These conditions can take many years, if not decades, to develop.

Asbestos fibres can be breathed in when asbestos containing material is damaged or disturbed by breaking, cutting, drilling and sawing. That’s why it is important that all houses or properties constructed before 1985 are checked for asbestos before any renovations and demolitions are carried out.

Consequences of Asbestos Exposure

Exposure to asbestos may cause a range of asbestos related diseases including:

  • Asbestosis
  • Lung cancer
  • Mesothelioma

Many people who have developed asbestos related diseases didn’t start exhibiting the symptoms until many years or decades later.

The Eventual Development of Asbestosis from Asbestos Exposure
Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease, which is characterised by asbestos scarring the lungs. This results in long term difficulties in breathing, which can be fatal or incapacitating. When in the advanced stages of asbestosis, the amount of stress placed on the lungs and heart from associated breathing difficulties can result in cardiac arrest.

Symptoms of asbestosis include difficulties or laboured breathing, chest pain and coughing. 

Eventual Lung Cancer Development from Asbestos Exposure

Exposure to asbestos can increase the risk of developing lung cancer. However by minimising exposure to other sources of carcinogens like smoking, individuals can reduce the risk of developing lung cancer.

Research has showed that people who are exposed to asbestos and smoke are far more likely to get lung cancer than those who don’t.

Symptoms of lung cancer can include the emergence of a dry cough or change in a chronic cough. Other symptoms can also include chest pain or breathlessness, repeated occurrences of bronchitis or pneumonia. A person might also notice that they are coughing or spitting blood.  

There have been instances of individuals not noticing any symptoms where the cancer might have been instead detected during routine tests. If so, the cancer might here be at its early stages of development.               

Eventual Development of Mesothelioma from Asbestos Exposure

Mesothelioma is considered the most serious of all asbestos related diseases. The condition can start in the covering of the lungs (pleural mesothelioma) or in the abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma).

Mesothelioma is directly linked to prolonged asbestos exposure. Workers who consistently have contact with asbestos and even their loved ones who are exposed to asbestos fibres by virtue of association have an increased likelihood of developing mesothelioma.

In fact, individuals who work with asbestos should endeavour to minimise the amount of asbestos dust that they bring home. There have been instances of mesothelioma resulting from washing clothes of a family member who worked with asbestos. There have also been incidences of children that developed mesothelioma as a result of asbestos dust that their loved ones brought home. Ignorance in this case, can be very costly.

Taking Steps to Avoid Asbestos Exposure

Unfortunately as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma tend to be diagnosed in their later stages, it can be more difficult to treat them. However with continued research into these types of cancer, treatments will continue to improve. In the meantime, it’s worth doing what you can to take preventative steps. 

That’s why it’s important that you do protect yourself and your loved ones. Have your home, property, office and building tested by the asbestos testing experts at www.envirolab.com.au to identify the presence of asbestos and the type of asbestos fibre identified in the testing. 


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