If you’re looking to lower your impact on the environment, it’s important to use good waste management practices in your home and workplace.
But it’s a process that involves more than following the three bin system.
Australia has strict rules in place to manage toxic waste like asbestos. While waste and littering clog up landfill, harmful toxins pollute the environment and risk the lives of humans and animals in a more hazardous way.
One pollutant that tends to slip under the radar is asbestos.
Fortunately, being able to identify it can be highly beneficial to your health, the environment and the safety of those around you.
Here’s what you need to know:
Friable vs. Non Friable Asbestos
Used in construction for most of the 20th century, asbestos is now known as the silent killer.
When asbestos is dry, it can easily crumble and break down by hand, releasing harmful fibres into the air. This is known as friable asbestos. Over time, damage and deterioration increases the friability of asbestos-containing materials. Water damage, ageing and physical impact or vibrations (grinding, breaking etc) can make this breakdown process more likely.
Friable asbestos was mainly used for commercial and industrial in the late 1800s. Some friable products are also in houses built before 1990. But non-friable can still become friable if unsealed, damaged and exposed to weather.
Non-friable asbestos is usually safe if left sealed and in good, stable condition. However, if undisturbed they can release dangerous fibres which pose serious health and environment risks. For example; asbestos insulation is very friable. Asbestos floor tiles aren’t.
When Asbestos Becomes Dangerous
Asbestos is most hazardous when it’s friable.
Friable products will feel quite soft, loose to touch and contain high levels of asbestos (usually 100%).
Once their fibres are released, they become extremely harmful for humans if inhaled or ingested. These asbestos fibres also contaminate the air, and travel incredibly long distances to pollute water and soil.
Environmental Impact of Asbestos
Exposure to asbestos has been a constant issue, threatening the health of our environment and population for centuries.
Asbestos isn’t biodegradable. Meaning, it doesn’t sink into the soil and can be easily disturbed and become airborne again. To limit its dangers for both health and environmental reasons, asbestos must be effectively managed by licensed asbestos testing and removal specialists.
Environmental concerns of asbestos:
- Air pollution: Impacts air cleanliness and if it gets into your lungs, put you at risk for asbestos-related health problems
- Soil pollution: Occurs mainly from air pollution when asbestos fibres that were airborne settle into the ground
- Water pollution: Water quality has been linked to toxins from asbestos. Half of Australia’s water pipelines also contain asbestos-cement, which can be dangerous when deterioration releases fibres into drinking water supplies
- Safe removal and disposal: Asbestos-containing products can’t be disposed of in landfill. Australia has Environment Protection Acts for the disposal of asbestos waste
Asbestos in Your Home or Workplace
Although asbestos was banned in Australian in 2003, it’s still commonly found in homes and workplaces.
In fact, one in three homes still contain asbestos today.
As a general rule of thumb; if your house was built:
Before mid-1980s: It’s highly likely it contains asbestos
Mid 1980s and 1990: Likely to contain asbestos
After 1990: Unlikely to contain asbestos. But, some houses built in the 1900s and early 2000 still used cement materials with asbestos, until the total ban became effective from December 2003.
Safe Removal Tips
To remove toxic waste like asbestos from your environment, it’s important to use safe removal practices including:
- Treat all asbestos as potentially friable
- Leave broken or fallen ceiling tiles in place until identified
- Before moving or disturbing any building materials (including renovations), ensure they don’t contain asbestos
- Do not use power or hand tools when handling asbestos
- Do not cut or break asbestos products
- Do not use high pressure hoses or compressed air
- Depending on which state you’re in, some rules allow non-friable asbestos to be removed without a license if it’s 10 sqm or less
- Thoroughly wet down asbestos-material or cover with drop sheets to avoid air/soil contamination