Practices to make asbestos less dangerous where it is not immediately possible to remove it have been examined by the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency in a new report that looks at ways of containing and stabilising asbestos, particularly in roofing.

The federal agency has examined current products and practices used to contain and stabilise asbestos in order to make it safer to remain in place, or to help make it safer while it’s being removed. 

The study found support in the industry for a government incentive towards dealing with and managing asbestos.

Asbestos is associated with a range of diseases, but most commonly, mesothelioma and asbestosis.

While in their bonded form, building materials that contain asbestos are relatively stable, they continue to pose a risk to human health and the environment as they age.

Exposure to the elements and disturbance increases the likelihood of asbestos fibres becoming airborne.

“As Australia grapples with the legacy of in-situ asbestos in our built environment, we need many solutions,” ASEA CEO Peter Tighe says.

“A lot of asbestos has been removed from Australian buildings, but there’s a long way to go.

“In an ideal world, we would have all the resources we need to remove asbestos completely from all buildings. But in the short term, methods like encapsulation are vastly preferable to doing nothing.” 

Asbestos roofing is a particular problem, both in commercial and residential buildings. Asbestos roofing is prevalent in Australia, and its exposure to the elements means it is more likely to deteriorate over time than other uses of asbestos.

Encapsulation of asbestos - the process of covering a material containing asbestos in a penetrative compound to contain the fibres - on roofing is essential and a simple and cost effective way to make deteriorating asbestos safer whilst waiting for removal as the only permanent solution.

Under a National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Management and Awareness, the Agency says that it has a focus on improving stabilisation and containment practices for asbestos containing materials in poor condition.

According to the Australian Mesothelioma Registry, 641 Australians died from mesothelioma in 2014, the most recent public accounting of the disease.

Those figures also indicated the disease toll was increasing over time, and different medical models point to a peak in deaths from mesothelioma between 2014 and 2021.

The number of mesothelioma cases in the country is expected to reach 18,000, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Australia’s high incidence of mesothelioma corresponds with the country’s extensive history of asbestos use. Experts report that from the 1950s to the 1970s, the country had the highest per capita rate of asbestos use in the world, according to the Australian Mesothelioma Registry.