The Experts

Asbestos – why ‘Mesothelioma’ is still a real risk for renovators


From 23 – 30 November it’s Asbestos Awareness Week to remind people it’s still a deadly risk, especially for home renovators.

Two people a day are still diagnosed with ‘mesothelioma’ asbestos cancer.

The Bernie Banton Foundation, which is run by Bernie Banton’s widow Karen Banton and her new partner Rod Smith, who also lost his wife to asbestos want to remind Australians to look out for the dangers.

How to identify asbestos when you’re renovating and what to do?

While we now know asbestos is deadly it was once used in many products as it was able to withstand heat, erosion and decay and, is fire and water-resistant. Asbestos can be present in any home or building; built or renovated before 1990, regardless if its brick, weatherboard or fibro. Asbestos is so prevalent that it exists in about 1 in 3 Australian homes, including apartments and buildings which is why it is still a huge threat.

If left alone, 97% of the asbestos products used in Australia are considered relatively safe unless damaged, drilled, sanded or crushed. Most people cannot tell if there is asbestos in building materials, as asbestos fibres are not visible to the naked eye and has no smell. This is why it is vital to have a licenced asbestos professional assess your home before you begin renovations if built before 1990.

Asbestos can be anywhere from fibro sheeting (flat and corrugated) which may have been used in internal walls and ceilings, external walls and cladding, roofing, infill panels in windows and doors, eaves, fencing, carports, sheeting under floor tiles, bathroom and laundry walls, backyard sheds and dog kennels. Electrical switchboards, backing to floor tiles and sheet vinyl, carpet underlay, the backing behind ceramic wall tiles and textile seals to ovens.  Water drainage, downpipes and flue pipes. Roofing shingles and guttering. In some homes, loose-fill asbestos was used in ceiling space as insulation.

When mined and processed, asbestos is typically separated into very thin fibres. An individual asbestos fibre is 50 to 200 times thinner than a human hair, is invisible to the naked eye and has no smell. Asbestos fibres are extremely durable and being so small they can easily be inhaled or swallowed. The fibres are barbed like fishhooks, if they lodge in lung tissue they cannot come out, only bury in further.

Only licenced asbestos removalists are recommended to remove and dispose of asbestos. If asbestos is disturbed it dan release dangerous fine particles of dust containing asbestos fibres.

So what should you do if you suspect your home might have asbestos?

  1. Finding asbestos requires scientific testing by an accredited laboratory. You need to involve a fully licensed person to assess any property for asbestos, before any work is done on it.

  2. If the asbestos products are in good condition, it is safe to leave them alone, but continue to check them for any signs of damage or deterioration.

  3. If the asbestos is damaged do not touch it or go near it call a licenced asbestos removalist to handle it. As not only is it deadly but insurance does not cover for asbestos if anything goes wrong.

Please be aware that DIY asbestos removal is not recommended and different states around Australia have different regulations regarding safe asbestos removal. In the ACT, self-removal of asbestos is illegal. All asbestos removal must be carried out by a licensed asbestos removalist. For more information and list of professionals visit

If you are working around asbestos what to do and not do

  • It is vital to not wash asbestos containing materials down using a power washer or high pressure water hose

  • Do not use air pressure to clean off asbestos containing material roofs or walls

  • Do not clean off, wash down or paint asbestos cement corrugated sheeting unless it is already painted and in good condition

  • Do not walk on asbestos cement corrugated roofs – they are all now over 30 years old and are extremely brittle and unsafe

  • Do not use anything abrasive on asbestos containing material that may score of break the surface such as stiff brooms, wire brushes, sandpaper and metal scrapers

  • Do not use any type of power or hand to drill holes, cut asbestos cement sheet, sand down asbestos cement sheet, grind up asbestos containing linoleum, vinyl or ceramic floor tiles

  • Do not put asbestos containing debris in your household or factory rubbish bin

  • Do not use a household vacuum cleaner to clean up dust or debris from asbestos containing materials – only asbestos approved HEPA vacuum cleaners should be used

  • Do not transport asbestos containing material unless you are trained, insured and licenced to do so. Your insurance does not cover you for asbestos containing materials

  • Do not dump asbestos waste anywhere

  • Do not DIY asbestos removal – it is extremely dangerous

What can asbestos exposure do to you?

If broken, cut, or drilled, asbestos releases dangerous, fine particles which, if you breathe in those particles, can, over time, cause asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma. Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma cancer and has no cure. Home renovating is the biggest cause of exposure to asbestos dust in Australia.

The 23rd- 30th of November is Asbestos Awareness Week. Two people a day are still diagnosed with ‘mesothelioma’ asbestos cancer. The Bernie Banton Foundation, want to remind Australians about the dangers.

People who want to find out more or have been recently diagnosed with an asbestos related disease or their loved ones can contact the Bernie Banton Foundation via Freecall Support Helpline on 1800 031 731. The helpline is available Australia-wide and open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

For more information you can also visit




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