Last published 10 Nov 2017
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a mineral fibre. In the past, asbestos was mixed with cement to make it stronger and easier to mould into different shapes and sizes, such as fibro sheeting.
Asbestos was also popular because of its fire resistance and insulation qualities.
Is asbestos dangerous?
Asbestos in fibro sheeting can present a health risk if the sheeting is cut or sanded, causing the physical release of the asbestos fibres. This material is considered safe if it’s in good condition and left undisturbed.
When inhaled, asbestos fibres can cause asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. The risk of contracting these conditions increases as the amount of asbestos fibres inhaled increases.
People who get health problems from inhaling asbestos have usually been exposed to high levels of asbestos over a very long period of time. Examples include people who have worked in asbestos mines or who have been employed in the production of fibro sheeting.
Is asbestos still used to build or repair FACS homes?
No. Since 1 January 1988, asbestos has been banned for use in building products in NSW.
Fibro sheeting that may contain asbestos is still present in many homes built before 1988. It was usually used as wall cladding, in eaves and in wet areas such as bathrooms and laundries.
Modern fibrous cement sheeting uses cellulose fibres instead of asbestos fibres and is considered a safe building material.
Am I in any danger?
The long-term risks of living in a home that contains asbestos products is extremely small relative to other risks experienced in everyday life.
It’s very important to realise that there are very low levels of asbestos in the air that we breathe while going about our daily lives.
What do I do if I suspect there is asbestos material in my home?
A significant number of the homes built before 1988 could contain some form of asbestos cement, irrespective if they are social housing or privately owned homes.
Generally, asbestos material in good condition and left undisturbed will not release asbestos fibres. There is no danger unless fibres are released and inhaled into the lungs.
If the area you suspect has asbestos starts to show signs of wear or damage, such as tears or abrasions report it to FACS Housing immediately.
A contractor will then come to your home as soon as possible and inspect the area, and possibly take a sample. If material contains asbestos, FACS will ensure it’s either made safe or removed.
The residential tenancy agreement signed by you at the beginning of your tenancy states that you’re not to alter your home in any way without the permission of FACS. This includes cutting into walls, drilling holes, making repairs and so forth.
If you inform FACS that you are seeking permission to do work on your home that might include disturbing fibro sheeting, FACS Housing will ensure your home is inspected and tested where required.
What do I do if I think I have been exposed to asbestos dust?
The first thing is to make sure you are not exposed to any more dust. Call the Housing Contact Centre immediately to arrange for maintenance.
If you are worried that you have inhaled dust that may contain asbestos, it may be advisable to see your doctor for peace of mind.
What should I do if I or someone else accidentally has created a hole in some fibro sheeting?
Make sure everyone at your home stays clear of the area and contact the Housing Contact Centre.
A contractor will come around as soon as possible and make sure the area is safe, and may take a sample for testing.
Remember, your safety comes first. Any matters as to who should pay for the repairs if you, your children or a friend has caused the hole can be dealt with at a later date.
Are contractors trained to deal with asbestos?
All FACS contractors must abide by SafeWork NSW regulations when they handle or move asbestos matter.
Can I transfer out of my home because I think it has asbestos?
No. FACS, on the best advice from NSW Health and SafeWork NSW, considers fibro sheeting safe if it’s left unharmed.
I have been drilling holes in my walls to hang pictures. Should I do this?
No. While the possibility of this having any effect on your health is minimal, the slight chance still exists. Please contact the Housing Contact Centre before drilling holes in cement sheeting.
If I find cement sheeting lying on the ground or under my house, what should I do?
Don’t touch it. Report it to the Housing Contact Centre, who will organise a contractor to remove it.
What do I do if an older house with fibro is being demolished next door?
SafeWork and NSW Health say that living next door to a house with fibro is only a problem when the fibro sheeting is broken or disturbed. There are some things that neighbours can do to minimise any risk during demolition works such as:
- ask the contractor how long the demolition will take
- note the phone number of the site manager in charge of the demolition and call him if there are any problems
- close your windows and doors that face the property being demolished to prevent dust getting in
- check that the property is securely fenced to prevent access by the public
- make sure that all asbestos cement is removed from the demolished site