Asbestos can cause health effects if fibres are inhaled into the lungs. The body’s natural defences (e.g. by being coughed up and then swallowed) remove most fibres from the lungs, however some fibres can remain in the lungs.
The possible health effects of asbestos include:
- Asbestosis (progressive and irreversible scarring of lung tissue that impairs breathing)
- Lung cancer
- Mesothelioma is a cancer of the linings around the lungs and abdomen
- Non-cancerous diseases that affect the linings around the lungs and abdomen (commonly called ‘benign pleural diseases’)
These diseases can sometimes take up to 50 years to develop. There may be some treatments for asbestos related diseases available, but there are currently no known cures. Further general information on asbestos related diseases is available from the Queensland Health web site.
Where could asbestos be found?
Bonded materials containing asbestos were often used inside houses for wall sheeting, particularly in ‘wet’ areas such as the kitchen, bathroom and laundry (e.g. the glazed patterned panels around showers and baths that are held in with screws). They were also used as ceiling sheeting. Asbestos might also be found bonded in plaster patching compounds and textured paint. Loosely bound materials containing asbestos might be found in a few older forms of insulation used in domestic heaters and stoves. Asbestos-felt was used as a backing for many vinyl and linoleum sheet floorings and does not pose a health risk while it remains undisturbed. However, these materials become loose when the floor covering is damaged or removed.
Removal of asbestos
If planning to remove materials that may contain asbestos consider leaving it alone and seek advice from an asbestos consultant or getting it tested by a laboratory such as Queensland and NSW Laboratory . Asbestos insulation was not routinely used in residential buildings, although there have been isolated cases in New South Wales and the ACT. Loosely-bound asbestos was generally used in commercial buildings and industrial workplaces.
Asbestos-felt vinyl flooring and other forms of loose asbestos must only be removed by an asbestos removal business that holds an ‘A’ Class certificate.