November 2014 is being observed as the National Asbestos Awareness Month in the lead-up to Asbestos Awareness Day on Friday 28 November.

The Asbestos Diseases Research Institute (ADRI) together with the Asbestos Education Committee urges all Australians, especially homeowners, renovators, tradespeople and handymen to visit and take the 20 Point Asbestos Safety Check to learn how to protect themselves and families from exposure to dangerous asbestos fibres.

Peter Dunphy, Chair of the Asbestos Education Committee that conducts the national Asbestos Awareness campaign warns that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos fibres. With at least 1 in 3 Australian homes containing asbestos, many homeowners, renovators, tradies and handymen are putting their health and the health of families at risk during home renovation, maintenance and demolition work if they are exposed to dangerous asbestos dust and fibres, causing asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma.

A type of cancer that mostly affects the lining of the lungs, mesothelioma develops between 20-50 years after inhaling asbestos fibres. There is no cure and the average survival time after diagnosis is 10-12 months. Inhaling asbestos fibres may also cause other diseases such as lung cancer, asbestosis and benign pleural disease.

Australians diagnosed with mesothelioma in the past have primarily been men exposed to asbestos fibres in mines and asbestos factories (First Wave), and in the workplace working with asbestos-containing materials (Second Wave). The current wave of asbestos-related diseases links asbestos exposure to DIY and renovations with more people, specifically women, diagnosed as a result of inhaling fibres in a non-occupational setting.

According to Mr Dunphy, Australia has one of the highest rates of asbestos-related diseases in the world, being among the highest consumers of asbestos products until a complete ban of asbestos came into force in the country in 2003. However, there is still a high volume of asbestos-containing building products used prior to 1987, which remain as hidden dangers in homes and buildings such as garages and farm structures.

Underlining the importance of asbestos awareness, Mr Dunphy said many Australians wrongly believe that only fibro homes contain asbestos. With asbestos products still commonly found in and around brick, weatherboard, clad and fibro homes built or renovated before 1987, it’s vital that homeowners, renovators, tradesmen and handymen get to know asbestos this November.

Asbestos could be hiding anywhere in the home including under floor coverings such as carpets, linoleum and vinyl tiles, behind wall and floor tiles, in cement floors, internal and external walls, ceilings and ceiling space (insulation), eaves, garages, roofs, around hot water pipes, fences, extensions to homes, garages, outdoor toilets, backyard and farm sheds, chook sheds and even dog kennels.

Asbestos products can also be found buried beneath and around homes, leftover from the original construction when it was common practice for builders and labourers to bury broken asbestos materials on building sites, and which can now be exposed when digging, gardening or redeveloping land.

Asbestos can also be found in low cost holiday homes built from fibro (bonded asbestos cement sheeting) especially in many coastal regions. Fibro was also used to construct many buildings in rural settings as a cost-effective means of housing farm equipment and stock. It was also widely used to construct ‘sleep-out’ additions to farmhouses and workers’ accommodation.

According to Professor Nico van Zandwijk, Director of the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute, statistics suggest an increasing number of mesothelioma victims have been exposed to asbestos fibres in non-occupational settings such as home renovation and maintenance, including women and children.

Mr Dunphy advises that asbestos can be detected only through scientific testing by an accredited National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA). If one is not sure whether a product contains asbestos, they should treat it as if it does, and take all necessary precautions to protect themselves and their families. To be completely sure, owners can have their properties inspected by a licenced removalist or a licensed asbestos assessor.

During November, Australians are encouraged to host a Blue Lamington Drive morning or afternoon tea at home or at work to help raise awareness of the current dangers of asbestos while raising vital funds for medical research and support services for sufferers of asbestos-related diseases.