Asbestos sheeting is compressed fibrous asbestos and cement sheeting, which was used extensively prior to 1980 in all building work. Commonly referred to as AC (asbestos cement) sheeting or after its tradename; 'fibro'. It was used in domestic applications as a low cost, rot resistant cladding for roofs (in corrugated form), garages, garden sheds, houses, wet areas such as bathrooms, toilets, laundries and kitchens, the underside of eaves (soffits) etc.
IS THERE ASBESTOS IN THE DAMAGED HOMES AND PROPERTIES?
Yes, if the home was built before 1984 it is likely some asbestos would be in the wet areas (bathrooms and laundries and some kitchens) and the eaves. If these sheets have been broken up, small amounts of, asbestos fibre would have been released.
WHAT IS THE HEALTH RISK FROM ASBESTOS?
Asbestos fibres inhaled into the lungs can cause mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer. However, the great majority of people who do inhale asbestos do not develop cancer. Asbestos locked in cement sheeting cannot be inhaled and is not dangerous. However, asbestos fibres released from broken sheeting may be present in the dust and ash on destroyed home sites.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I HAVE BREATHED IN SOME DUST?
The main risk from dust inhalation is short term breathing difficulties in people with respiratory illnesses.
While some asbestos is present in some of the dust and ash from destroyed homes, the levels are not high and the large size of the asbestos fibres released from asbestos sheets means there is only a very low risk of it causing disease.
WHAT SHOULD I DO?
You should take care not to disturb burnt material, in order to minimise the generation of dust. If you do need to move burnt material, you should dampen it first to reduce dust. People visiting the sites who are undertaking low risk clean up such as removal of garden rubbish or disturbing the rubble should wear dust masks or a damp cotton tea towel around the nose and mouth. Physical safety is also important. You should wear sensible clothing, including long pants and sleeves, sturdy shoes and gloves. You should be careful of unstable or sharp material to avoid injury.
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I LIVE NEARBY?
If dust is blowing around house sites, you should minimise your exposure by staying inside and keeping the doors and windows closed. If you have to go outside when it is dusty, you should wear a dust mask or a damp tea towel over your mouth and nose. Also, if you are clearing damaged material on your property, you should dampen down the material and wear a dust mask and protective clothing. Outdoor furniture or play equipment should be washed down before use to remove any dust that has settled on it.
WHAT SORT OF MASKS SHOULD I WEAR?
A correctly fitting "P1" rated dust mask will provide protection from dust including low levels of asbestos. These masks are suitable if you are visiting a site or live nearby. "P1" rated masks are on sale from hardware stores. The masks can be re used until they no longer fit properly or become visibly clogged or blocked. Used masks should be placed in plastic bags and disposed of in the rubbish.
WHAT ABOUT BABIES OR PEOPLE WHO CAN'T WEAR MASKS?
Damp tea towels or cloths across the nose and mouth will also provide adequate protection.
HOW SHOULD SITES BE CLEARED?
Sites should be cleared by builders licensed to carry out demolition work. The sites will be dampened down to reduce dust. The material will be removed to designated landfill site in covered trucks. Workers at the landfill site will reduce dust levels until the material can be covered. Where the whole of the site is being cleared, work must be carried out in accordance with building and safety requirements.