31 December 2003: Asbestos was Officially Banned
This miracle mineral was first discovered in the 1800s, and since then it was widely used in commercial and industrial settings for insulation, fireproofing and soundproofing. Among the reasons for the use of asbestos-containing material (ACM) for construction industries, including:
- High tensile strength
- High-temperature resistance
- Non-conductive to electricity
- Chemical resistance to bases and acids
Asbestos is categorised into two types:
- Friable – it means that when the material is dry, it can be crushed, pulverised and reduced to powder by the pressure of our hands. Some examples of friable products are millboard, insulation and pipe lagging.
- Non-Friable – it means that when the material is dry, it cannot be pulverised, crushed and reduced to powder by a hand pressure. Some examples of non-friable products are vinyl tiles and vinyl sheet, electrical boards and asbestos cement sheet.
Meanwhile, asbestos cement materials are also known as AC sheeting or fibro. Fibro was produced in Australia in the 1920s. If you are wondering what Fibro is, it is an abbreviation. It stands for “Fibrous Cement Sheet”. Fibro is a building material that contains asbestos to strengthen the cement.
From the mid-1940s until the end of 1980s, fibro was commonly used in residential building industries. From 1945 – 1970, there was a house booming and fibro houses were being constructed regularly. The fibro was very popular by the mid-1960s. It appeared in almost 20% of all residential buildings in Australia and created “fibro belts” in most of the cities in Australia.
The trend of fibro-house did not spread equally in all states in Australia. Fibro-houses were mostly built in NSW, NT, and WA. The use of fibro for houses were not familiar in QLD, VIC, SA and Tasmania. Each area had different numbers of fibro-houses. The material was largely used by the authorities to build many inexpensive houses due to this material’s affordability. In more prosperous suburbs, it was restricted only to sheds and fences.
Homes began to change during the 1970s and 80s. The introduction of tile and brick houses became much more desirable. Asbestos, however, was still used for fences and often it was found in walls, eaves and ceilings.
The Common Types of Fibro
There are various types of fibro, such as flat and corrugated sheets. The flat sheet was mostly used for walls and ceilings while the corrugated sheet that was also known as “Super Six” was mainly used for the ceiling and roofing. There are other types of fibro including “Tilux” sheeting, moulded products and water and drain pipes.
Where Can You Find AC Sheeting of Fibro Products?
This material was used mostly in:
- Internal and external wall cladding
- Water and flue pipes
The Effect of ACMs for Health
Asbestos has been linked to various serious diseases related to the lungs since the 1980s. The main source of the health risk is airborne ACM fibres. One of many victims of asbestos exposure is from Wollongong. She’s still quite young when she was exposed to the deadly fibres from her father’s work overalls. She was diagnosed with Mesothelioma.
All types of ACM are well-known for causing cancer. There are diseases that linked to the exposure to airborne fibres:
- Pleural plaques
- Cancers (Lungs and Mesothelioma)
It is caused by scarring on the inside of lungs. The tissue enduring the scar reduces the rate transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide to and from the bloodstream. The disease can be detected generally more than ten years after the exposure.
The characteristic of this condition is the hardening of the membrane on the inside part of a wall of the chest and outside of the lungs. Although it does not cause a life-threatening condition, it can be an indicator that the person could be at risk of developing another disease related to asbestos. It can generally be detected 5 to 10 years after the exposure.
Lung cancer is highly likely to be endured by a smoker who is exposed to airborne ACM fibres. The lung cancer is 55 times higher infecting smokers who are also exposed to the fibrous material.
There are two types of Mesothelioma:
- Pleural – it is a membrane cancer around the chest cavity. Shortness of breath, chest and lower back pain, weight loss, weakness and persistent coughing are the symptoms of this disease.
- Peritoneal – it is a membrane cancer surrounding the abdominal cavity. Nausea, abdominal pain or swelling, weight loss and weakness are the symptoms of this disease.
The disease can generally be detected 20 years after the exposure.
The Ban of Asbestos
The cement materials were finally eliminated during the 1980s in favour for the ACM-free products. It was on 31 December 2003 that the total ban of asbestos was officially implemented. The ban was including the manufacture, import, storage, use, re-use, transport or sale of all forms of ACMs.