February 20, 2019

What to do when you find asbestos in your home

VICTORIA – Renovations can be stressful for a homeowner, especially when dealing with an older home where asbestos may be hiding under old flooring or around heating ducts.

Before Madeleine Bragg and her husband bought their 1940s home in Fernie, B.C., they had it inspected for asbestos, which was commonly mined and used for its high tolerance to heat. Roof tiles and insulation were tested and the conclusion was their new home was free of asbestos.

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Unfortunately it wasn’t until they began renovating and were ripping up the old linoleum flooring in the kitchen that they discovered their home did, in fact, have asbestos.

Pulling up the flooring revealed a second layer of linoleum that had a paper lining containing asbestos.

“I was six months pregnant. I was flipping out,” says Bragg. “I thought it was so awful and if I had known asbestos was in the house we wouldn’t have bought it, or would have paid significantly less for it.”

The couple looked into removing the asbestos themselves, but when they realized the costs of the disposal bags and having to ship it out of town to be properly discarded, they opted to have professionals do the job for them.

Mid-construction the Braggs had to leave their home to be bagged and correctly treated before work could resume.

Summer Green, owner of RemovAll Remediation Services in Victoria, says it is possible for homeowners to do a smaller job themselves if they follow proper guidelines, such as those from WorkSafeBC.

“If it was my daughter, and her husband wanted to deal with asbestos on his own, I would say wet it down, follow the approved guidelines, and they would probably be OK,” says Green.

Many of the guidelines in place for abatement and removal are meant to protect construction workers and contractors who may come into contact with asbestos on a regular basis, but homeowners should be cautious and informed when removing asbestos.

According to Green, any home built before the 1990s could contain asbestos in the insulation and drywall and around boilers and pipes.

“Older houses are often heated by boilers and hot water registers,” she says. “Those pipes were covered in asbestos, often 80 to 90 per cent asbestos. With forced air heating they used duct tape, but at that time it was asbestos tape. Any white tape you see on your ducts contains asbestos, and they don’t even bother testing it.”

Many homeowners are unaware they have asbestos in their house until they become involved in a home renovation project where testing is required for work permits.

Green says it is possible for people to have lived in a house containing asbestos for many years without any health problems because issues arise only when asbestos fibres are released into the air.

“You can go up in an attic and breathe in fibreglass insulation and it can get in your lungs, and it can cause problems, but with fibreglass insulation the fibres are straight fibres,” says Green. “But with an asbestos fibre no matter how small you make it or break it down they are constantly splitting and have a barb on them.”

Fibreglass fibres can be coughed out of someone’s lungs, but with asbestos, Green says, fibres hook into the walls of your lungs and you can’t get them out.

According to the Government of Canada, potential health problems from asbestos exposure include asbestosis (scarring of the lungs which makes it hard to breathe), mesothelioma (a cancer of the lining of the chest or abdominal cavity) and lung cancer.

The cost of removing asbestos has begun to affect not only the way homeowners proceed with renovations, but it can also affect the cost of purchasing and insuring a home.

“In real estate, inspectors are noticing asbestos in the insulation on the forced air ducts or pipes, and homeowners have to deal with it before a house is sold,” says Green.

“Mortgage companies are saying they won’t finance until the asbestos is gone, and insurance companies may not insure without a clearance letter, which can affect the price of a home.”

© The Canadian Press, 2014

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What to do when you find asbestos in your home

New deal for asbestos victims

Groundbreaking reforms to WA laws could soon allow victims of asbestos to claim thousands of dollars more in compensation for their deadly illness.

If the Asbestos Diseases Compensation Bill is passed by State Parliament, for the first time people with asbestos-related diseases would be able to seek provisional damages.

Now, they can seek damages only once and are unable to pursue more compensation if they later develop more serious health problems such as mesothelioma, whereas Victoria, NSW and South Australia allow sufferers to seek interim damages.

The historic legislation would also allow victims to seek damages for loss of capacity to care for a family member, such as a young child, commonly known as Sullivan versus Gordon damages.

In her second reading speech yesterday, Upper House Labor MP Kate Doust said the move was long overdue in WA, which bore the brunt of the asbestos legacy.

She hoped to get strong support from all MPs to give greater justice to asbestos victims.

“This has been a huge problem for people in this State and isn’t over by any means because we’re still seeing the epidemic,” she said.

“Yet there have long been concerns about the limitations of payouts and the absolute struggle families go through to get them.”

More than 250 people die in WA each year from asbestos exposure and the State has some of the highest rates of lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma because of the mining of blue asbestos at Wittenoom. Early cases mostly involved miners, manufacturers and construction workers but WA is now in the midst of another wave made up of home renovators and their families who were exposed to asbestos products.

Slater & Gordon asbestos lawyer Tricia Wong said the proposed legislation was very relevant for WA.

“At present, sufferers are left in a real dilemma because if they make a claim when they first become sick, they cut themselves off from a further claim if they later get a more serious condition such as mesothelioma,” she said.

The current laws also meant sufferers could not claim for the commercial costs of care they would otherwise have provided to a loved one or family member, which left many families struggling financially.

Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia president Robert Vojakovic said the Bill recognised that asbestos diseases were unique because they could be latent for many years and invariably progressed rather than improved.

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New deal for asbestos victims

Asbestos found at Lincoln University

A Lincoln University building has been shut down after a concerned staff member took a swab of some dust which returned a positive test for asbestos.

The university is now working with “anxious” staff after the hazardous substance discovery was made last month in the 60-year-old Riddolls Building.

The Canterbury District Health Board has been called in and several more tests, checks, and cleans have been carried out.

Murray Dickson, the university’s group manager corporate services, say they now have been cleared of danger, but staff can enter now only under strict restricted access conditions.

After the devastating earthquakes, several large university buildings were deemed too unsafe to occupy and staff and students were moved to other buildings across the campus.

The Riddolls Building was renovated, and Mr Dickson said that university records showed that there was asbestos in the building, which was built in 1952.

“It was taken very seriously and all procedures were followed before we moved in,” Mr Dickson said.

Science labs and associated work spaces, including chillers, were moved in.

But he believes that stormy weather which struck the region last last month caused some asbestos dust to emerge.

A concerned staff member took some dust samples in the building, which Mr Dickson said they were encouraged to do in such circumstances.

As a precautionary measure, the building was shut down while they awaited the results.

Canterbury District Health Board were sent three samples on July 17, it confirmed yesterday.

Two came back positive for Chrysotile (white asbestos) and one contained both Crysotile and Amosite (brown asbestos).

On July 22 and 23, CDHB community and public health technical officers visited the site and took two more bulk samples.

One of the two bulk samples are positive for white asbestos.

The university’s ‘spill response team’ carried out clean-up operations on advice from community and public health.

On August 19, the university sent six samples for testing, and only one sample contained brown asbestos, a CDHB spokeswoman confirmed.

“We’ve done a lot of remedial work and blocked off some gaps between rooms and ceiling spaces, where dust may have come from,” Mr Dickson said.

“We’ve now got full clearance. There hasn’t been an airborne sample that we haven’t had a clearance from.”

Staff are entering the building under restricted access, he said.

“It’s obviously an emotive topic and one which some staff are anxious over, and some are not.

“We’re working with staff and want to make them happy and satisfied. We’re comfortable with what we’ve done.”

Asbestos exposure can lead to breathing difficulties or cancer but symptoms may not become apparent for decades.

Mr Dickson wasn’t aware of any staff, or contractors who had been doing work on the building, as having undergone medical tests to check if their lungs have been affected by the killer dust.

But he urged anyone with concerns to notify the university, whose alumni includes All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, mountaineer Mark Inglis, and double Victoria Cross winner and war hero, Charles Upham.

Fletcher Building’s Winstone Wallboards unit has temporarily closed a plasterboard factory in Christchurch after finding traces of asbestos in the building.

The company was told of the discovery on Monday by an external testing agency and has closed the entire site as a precautionary measure to allow for more testing.


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Asbestos found at Lincoln University

Fears over asbestos levels in schools


Illustration: Matt Golding.

Illustration: Matt Golding.

Parents, teachers and principals have called for the wide-scale removal of asbestos in Victorian schools, as state government audits reveal many buildings need the toxic material cleaned up immediately.

Documents seen by Fairfax Media also reveal that the amount of funding to manage asbestos has plunged in recent years, from $14.3 million between 2007-10 to $1.8 million in 2011-12.

About two-thirds of Victoria’s 1531 public schools contain asbestos, and the documents show that many of the schools have so-called ”Priority 1” problems – where asbestos could be of ”substantial risk” unless it was immediately removed, sealed or labelled.

But while the government insists students are safe, it could not categorically say if each school had adequately dealt with the asbestos, as required under department guidelines, because there is no central register.


Education Minister Martin Dixon said parents had nothing to fear. ”The safety of students and staff in our schools comes first,” he said. ”We have a comprehensive system in place that includes expert training, detailed asbestos management plans and a hotline that schools can call to get an immediate site inspection and, where appropriate, have the asbestos removed.”

But schools contacted by Fairfax Media painted the picture of an ad-hoc system where asbestos had been removed or sealed off in some cases, but may not have been properly addressed in others.

The education union and principal groups also say safety breaches occasionally occur, as it was up to individual schools to make sure they comply with their own asbestos management plans.

“It isn’t ideal,” said Victorian Principals Association president Gabrielle Leigh. ”It would be better if the asbestos was removed altogether, but schools can’t afford to remove it themselves.”

The documents were released under Freedom of Information laws to former Labor policy adviser Andrew Herington, and come only days after reports of asbestos not being properly disposed of by workers building the National Broadband Network. They also show:

■ Between 2006 and 2008, 2775 audits for asbestos and other hazardous material was undertaken in schools, but during 2011 and 2012 only 47 new asbestos audits were completed.

■ Asbestos works in 2010-11 included the removal of asbestos in ceilings and eaves at Drouin Secondary College and Balwyn North Primary; the removal of overgrown trees in a “contaminated area” at Dingley Primary School; and an “urgent call out” at Albion North Primary School after dozens of pieces of asbestos were found.

■ A pilot program to examine different ways of labelling asbestos hazards in schools will not be implemented more broadly by the government.

Mr Herington said the government should conduct new audits on schools that had not been audited in the past five years, check that all the

recommended actions had been taken and ensure that any remaining asbestos sheeting was well painted and labelled.

While the risk of asbestos is relatively limited when it is dormant, fibres that become airborne can lead to diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Parents Victoria spokeswoman Gail McHardy said safety breaches sometimes occurred, so the department could not afford to be complacent. A few years ago, for example, contract workers at Geelong High School drilled a hole through walls containing asbestos that had not been labelled. In another case, WorkSafe was called in to Elsternwick High after a student picked up asbestos found at the school.

“Anything that presents a health hazard to children should be removed,” Ms McHardy said.

Australian Education Union vice-president Carolyn Clancy said the department should have a central register revealing where the asbestos is in each school, and embark on a program to get rid of it.

But department spokeswoman Vanessa O’Shaughnessy said the department already had a comprehensive program. Each school managed its own asbestos plan that showed where the asbestos was, she said, and the department conducted audits on an ongoing basis to check compliance. More than 300 audits would take place between April 2013 and June 2014.

”As part of the major capital works programs undertaken in 2011 and 2012, large amounts of asbestos were removed from Victorian schools and the costs were built into overall project costs,” she said.

Federally, a new national asbestos agency will oversee a two-stage prioritisation of asbestos removal by 2030, first in public infrastructure and then in private buildings and structures.


Fears over asbestos levels in schools

Asbestos threat from NBN rollout overstated according to public health expert

A public health expert has downplayed fears that work on telecommunication pits could lead to harmful asbestos exposure among nearby residents.

Several sites in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia have been shut down because asbestos was disturbed during excavation works for the roll out of the National Broadband Network (NBN).

Authorities are investigating safety breaches and some concerned residents in the Sydney suburb of Penrith evacuated their homes.

But Professor Bruce Armstrong, who has been researching asbestos-related diseases for decades, says there is next to no danger for residents near the affected sites.

He says asbestos fibres are less dangerous when they are bound up in concrete sheeting.

“Provided it remains bound in the asbestos cement form, then the risk from it is negligible,” he said.

“The hazard…

would have been to the workers knocking the asbestos around and not to people living nearby.”

Professor Armstrong says the public lacks education about the dangers of asbestos.

“We’ve seen the difficulties that many men have experienced – Bernie Banton and others – and I think the community has not either been educated to or perhaps caught the difference between the circumstances in which those men were exposed and the circumstances around asbestos cement sheeting,” he said.

“I think that people are starting to attach to being even close to asbestos cement sheeting the same kind of hazard as men experienced in Hardie…

and this is just not the case.”

Message not welcomed by victim support groups

Asbestos victims groups say Professor Armstrong’s commentary is not helpful.

Asbestos Diseases Foundation president Barry Robson says research shows it only takes one fibre to lodge in the chest to cause disease.

“Some experts say you need a lot of exposure, other experts say you only need the one,” he said.

“We at the Asbestos Diseases Foundation, and I can say this on behalf of the other nine groups here in Australia, there is no safe level and one fibre can do the damage.”

Both men agree that politics should be kept away from the debate.

“The politicians are also beating this up,” Professor Armstrong said.

“They too are tending to portray it in a very negative light, that this is a major problem.

“Obviously the Opposition in trying to make it look as black as possible.”

Mr Robson says MPs will be judged harshly if the political debate continues throughout the NBN rollout.

“These young families are going to have this worry for 30, 40 years hanging over their heads,” he said.

Both men also say Telstra could allay community fears by talking directly to affected residents.

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Asbestos threat from NBN rollout overstated according to public health expert

Investigation into asbestos near school

PEAK safety body WorkSafe Victoria has launched an investigation into claims workers dumped bags of asbestos just metres from a Ballarat primary school during the National Broadband Network roll-out.

Telstra has also announced it will employ 200 specialists to supervise asbestos removal during the roll-out.

The telco giant has stopped remediation work on its pits and ducts, some of which contain asbestos, while an audit is completed into whether any safety measures were breached.

The stop-work comes after a string of asbestos-related issues involving Telstra contractors were reported around the country.

Leighton subsidiary Visionstream is the contractor co-ordinating the work in Ballarat.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said federal workplace safety regulator Comcare was also investigating the issue of improper asbestos handling.

On Monday, The Courier and The Australian Financial Review revealed that bags full of deadly asbestos material had been left for a weekend outside a Mount Clear Telstra exchange located next to a primary school.

Ballarat MP Catherine King said she shared the community’s concerns about safe handling of asbestos and had written to NBN Co asking it to explain the incident in Mount Clear.

“These pits and ducts are owned by Telstra and it is their responsibility to get them ready for the NBN roll-out in a safe and secure way,” she said.

“The government expects Telstra and its contractors to follow Australia’s strict laws in the handling and removal of asbestos when it is preparing its pits and ducts for the roll-out of the NBN.”

Telstra chief operations officer Brendon Riley said the company was deeply concerned and would take “every precaution necessary” to strengthen its asbestos management processes.

“These are strong actions reflecting our absolute priority on the safety of our workers, our contractors and the community,” he said.

An NBN Co spokesperson said: “The Definitive Agreements between NBN Co and Telstra clearly define the remediation of Telstra’s own infrastructure as the responsibility of Telstra.”

The Office of Asbestos Safety will work with Telstra and its contractors to ensure asbestos handling is completed properly.


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Investigation into asbestos near school

NBN asbestos safety breaches prompts family to demand answers from Government and Telstra

A Sydney family is demanding answers from Telstra and the Federal Government over fears asbestos fibres have contaminated their home during the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN).

Work has stopped at some sites in New South Wales and Victoria, improvement notices issued in Tasmania, and Telstra subcontractors are being investigated for asbestos safety breaches by Comcare.

Thousands of telco-pits across Australia are being prepared for fibre optic cables, including old pits containing asbestos.

There are concerns the deadly fibres have been released into residential areas during the works.

Matthew O’Farrell, his wife and their two children aged 12 weeks and six years old have been moved out of their home in Penrith, in Sydney’s west, and into a motel after being told there was asbestos in a pit outside their home and their street may have been contaminated.

“The first time I found out that this was asbestos, my stomach sank. I’ve been on edge ever since, nervous of everything I do. I started to get very paranoid about how far this stuff had got,” he said.

“I’ve had no reassurance from anyone when we’ll be able to go back to our home, when it is safe and whether my children or wife have come into contact or breathed in any of this material.

“I just hope that over the next 20 years I’m not having to say to my children that they’ve got this from living in that house.”

‘It’s just exploding everywhere’

Mr O’Farrell says the Telstra contractors who had been working on the pit had “no idea” what they were doing and he says some of them cannot speak English.

“I’ve watched the owner of the company communicate with them from metres away with hand signals, telling them to break up the pits with their hands and putting it into bags,” he said.

“[They were] hitting the pits with sledgehammers, pitchforks and crowbars.

“It’s just exploding everywhere, all over the road, down the driveways, all over the front yards of our properties.”

‘Urgent investigation’

Telstra has accepted complete responsibility for the cleanup of asbestos found during the rollout.

Telstra chief operations officer Brendon Riley said his team reacted immediately to the concerns of residents on the Penrith street earlier this month.

“As soon as we received the information we sent our team out to the pit to inspect the site and as a result immediately suspended the contractor from further work and safely secured the area,” he said.

He says Telstra did further investigations.

“We also re-visited all sites remediated by this contractor to make sure the removal of asbestos was conducted in the appropriate way,” he said.

“I ordered an urgent investigation into the incident and my team has been liaising regularly with the local residents including bringing in asbestos experts to talk to them.

“We understand this is a distressing time for the residents who have every right to expect that this type of work will be conducted safely and in accordance with the strictest of safety procedures.”

Government taking safety breaches seriously

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has moved to reassure the public that the Government is taking the safety breaches very seriously.

“The Office of Asbestos Safety will work closely with Comcare to address any asbestos hazards in a nationally coordinated way to protect Australians from asbestos exposure,” he said.

“This is a very serious issue and as you know lives can be put at stake.”

Comcare is investigating the work, health and safety systems of Telstra in Tasmania, New South Wales and Victoria.

The National Office of Asbestos Safety has also been called in to investigate.

Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten says the Government is working with Telstra and its contractors to address asbestos safety issues.

“We take any potential cases of asbestos exposure extremely seriously and a national approach to asbestos awareness, handling and eradication is urgently needed,” he said.

“There is no excuse, if it’s proven to have happened, for this to have happened full stop.

“Asbestos is a killer.

“We are determined to have a national action plan and I’ve spoken with Telstra about best practice.”

Union calls for fund for future victims

The Union representing NBN technicians is calling for Telstra to set up a fund to pay for the care and treatment of future asbestos disease victims caused by poor asbestos management on the NBN project.

CEPU NSW assistant secretary Shane Murphy wants Telstra to set up a register for all workers who have been exposed to asbestos while working on the Telstra network.

“The impacts of this mess will be felt decades into the future,” he said.

“Telstra needs to take responsibility for the health impact on its own workers as well as the broader community.”

Subcontractors are ‘cowboys’

Asbestos Diseases Foundation president Barry Robson says some of the subcontractors involved with the NBN work “are just cowboys”.

“They had no protection, the four workers [in Penrith],” said Mr Robson.

“The residents tell me they just got stuck into this particular one, some of the workers smashed it all up … asbestos went everywhere.”

Kevin Harkins from Unions Tasmania says Comcare has not been checking sites often enough.

“Hopefully this will be a wake-up call, but Comcare don’t have any officers based in Tasmania,” he said.

“We need more people on the ground inspecting health and safety risks to employees and the community.

“As I understand it, in New South Wales, a number of houses have actually been evacuated because of the dangers of asbestos, we don’t want that happening in Tasmania.”

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NBN asbestos safety breaches prompts family to demand answers from Government and Telstra