Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous silicate material that was commonly used throughout the 20th Century in Australia in a variety of products due to its ability to withstand heat, erosion and decay. Most buildings constructed or renovated between 1945 and 1990 will have used asbestos. Asbestos is also found naturally in within the Port Macquarie Hastings area within Serpetinite rocks.
Health Risks Associated with Asbestos
Simply living or working in a building containing asbestos is not dangerous, as long as the asbestos is in good condition (undamaged) and not disturbed. When asbestos is disturbed, either in its natural form or in an asbestos-containing product, these fibres can become airborne and be easily inhaled. Asbestos fibres may become trapped in the lungs, potentially causing a number of life-threatening diseases like cancer, asbestosis and pleural plaques.
Australia has one of the highest rates of asbestos related disease in the world. Asbestos-related diseases contribute to approximately 4000 deaths in Australia each year (Global Burden of Disease Collaborative Network, 2016). This is more than 3 times the annual road toll. There is no safe level of exposure that can protect you from developing an asbestos-related disease (World Health Organisation).
Asbestos and your home
It’s estimated that one in three homes contains asbestos. If your home was built before 1990 it’s safest to assume it has asbestos somewhere. The same general rule applies to farms and rural properties.
Asbestos was used to make building materials such as fibro which was widely used in the construction industry during the 1950s, '60s and '70s. Asbestos use in domestic building materials was gradually phased out since the 1980’s but it wasn’t banned in Australia until 2003. If in sound condition and left undisturbed, asbestos products are not a significant health risk and can be left in place. Health problems usually occur when people are unaware of the hazards of working with fibro or where naturally occurring asbestos is disturbed. Below is a diagram that shows the potential locations of asbestos products in the home if your home was built or renovated before 1990.
Before renovating or planning to renovate you should have your house inspected for asbestos by a SafeWork NSW licensed asbestos assessor. The only definitive way to tell if it is asbestos is through sample analysis under microscopic examination at a registered laboratory. Fibrous cement sheeting made with asbestos in the early 1980s looks the same as that made in the mid 1980s without asbestos. Vinyl tiles and sealants often require further testing using x-ray diffraction or scanning electron microscopy to confirm asbestos content. If in doubt assume it is asbestos.
Building demolitions and renovations containing Asbestos
Some types of building renovation, demolition work or earthworks require Council consent before work starts. Where asbestos material or naturally occurring asbestos is present, Council will place general conditions about safe work practices for asbestos on the consent requiring compliance with relevant Australian Standards, Work Health and Safety Regulations and Guidelines.
Homeowners can remove less than 10 square metres of bonded asbestos (eg fibro) that is in good condition, if you use the appropriate safety precautions. For advice about how to remove, handle and store bonded asbestos visit Asbestos Awareness and Asbestos Safety.
It is recommended that all asbestos removal work be carried out by a licensed removalist. For amounts greater than 10 square metres, only licensed asbestos removalists can remove asbestos from your building. An asbestos removal licence is required to remove material containing asbestos. There are two types of removal licences, Class A (Friable) and Class B (Bonded) issued by SafeWork NSW.
- Class A (friable) asbestos removalist is licensed to remove any amount of friable asbestos, such as fire damaged fibro houses, sprayed limpet, asbestos cloth, mill board and pipe lagging. A licensed Asbestos Assessor is required to carry out functions connected with Class A works such as undertake air monitoring and issue clearance certificates.
- Class B (non-friable) asbestos removalist is licensed to remove any amount of bonded asbestos material such as fibro, corrugated cement sheeting and asbestos cement pipes.
Always check with your builder to ensure they are licensed to dispose of asbestos.
Naturally occurring Asbestos
Asbestos occurs naturally in Serpetinite rocks which exist in soils in the Port Macquarie-Hastings area. Activities such as excavation, road works, farming and quarrying have the potential to disturb naturally occurring asbestos and release fibres into the air. If naturally occurring asbestos is left untouched then there is minimal risk.
View a map911KB pdf(PDF, 911KB) of current known locations of naturally occurring asbestos in the Port Macquarie-Hastings area. Note: This map shows only known locations of asbestos in the area. Asbestos may occur in other locations of the Port Macquarie-Hastings area.
Council's roles and responsibilities
Asbestos at Work Sites
Sites where work is being carried out by employees or a self-employed person(s) are considered workplaces. Workplaces are regulated by SafeWork NSW. When Council becomes aware of non-compliance at work sites, Council officers will advise SafeWork NSW. Concerns regarding work sites should be raised with SafeWork NSW. More information for asbestos at worksites can be found on the SafeWork NSW website.
Asbestos at Non Work Sites
Concerns or complaints regarding material containing asbestos at non-work sites, dumping of material containing asbestos or the presence of naturally occurring asbestos can be referred to Council for investigation via:
Council may authorise work to rectify any unsafe or unhealthy conditions or arrange for the material to be collected once it has been rendered safe to handle and disposed of at Council's waste disposal facility. Generally where waste material containing asbestos is dumped or otherwise contained on private property, the material remains the responsibility of the property owner. Where a complaint is made to Council with respect to waste asbestos material on private property, Council may investigate the complaint and, if necessary, the property owner may be required to remove and safely dispose of the asbestos material.
It is illegal to import, store, supply, sell, install, use or re-use asbestos materials. The ban does not apply to asbestos installed in buildings prior to 31st December 2003 such as asbestos in homes.
Environmental Asbestos Guidelines
This Guideline was formulated to be consistent with Council’s legislative obligations and within the scope of Council’s powers. This Guideline should be read in conjunction with relevant legislation, NSW Guidelines and codes of practice. In the case of any discrepancies, the most recent legislation shall prevail. This Guideline is based upon the Model Asbestos Policy for NSW Councils developed by the Heads of Asbestos Coordination Authorities to promote a consistent Local Government approach to asbestos management across NSW.
Download guidelines1MB pdf(PDF, 1MB)
This page was last updated on: 24 March 2021