Caution around asbestos – Andrew Mackie-Smith

What do you do when you go to renovate a property and it has asbestos in it or you think it might have asbestos? What do you do, how do you go about it, how costly can it be, and what are your obligations with that?   Building inspector Andrew Mackie-Smith from Building Pro steps in to answer those questions.
Kevin:  What do you do when you go to renovate a property and it has asbestos in it or you think it might have asbestos? What do you do, how do you go about it, how costly can it be, and what are your obligations with that?
Joining me to talk about this, a building inspector of some note who’s been a regular guest on our show. I’m talking to Andrew Mackie-Smith from BuildingPro.
Andrew, thank you so much for your time. Andrew, of course, is the author of a great book called Building Success. It’s available in most good bookstores, I think, Andrew, isn’t it?
Andrew:  Yes, some good bookstores, but definitely on Amazon, Kevin.
Kevin:  Oh, good. Okay, you can get it on Amazon. It’s a great book because it goes into a lot of detail about some very basic issues to do with building. One of those is asbestos. As I said in the opening, what do you do when you think you might have a property that has asbestos in it?
Andrew, I know this is a concern for many people. How do we go about finding out if we do have asbestos in there, and what should do we do about it?
Andrew:  There are some simple tests you can do as a home-owner. You can do what’s called a tap test where you tap on the sheeting. Most asbestos in homes in Australia are bound up in cement sheet products. This is the corrugated AC roofing and the sheeting that’s used as cladding internally and externally. It’s also used in backing of vinyl tiles and other areas.
But on the sheeting for ceilings, walls, etc., you can generally do a tap test. You tap on it with a sharp object, like the back of a screwdriver or just your knuckles. If it’s a very hard, sharp sound, that can indicate that it is asbestos and not the regular sheeting. You can also do small scratch tests.
But I would advise people not to do those rudimentary tests and to just go for a professional asbestos audit. It costs about $500. Have it done and find out for sure.
Kevin:  One thing that worries me about the tap test and that scratch test is that with asbestos, you have to be very careful with how you handle it, and it should be wet first, because those asbestos fibers are what cause all the damage, Andrew, aren’t they?
Andrew:  Absolutely. There’s a lot of sensationalism about asbestos and the risks of it, Kevin. At the end of the day, the worldwide medical research is that if you’re exposed and inhale only a few fibers, it’s an incredibly low risk. But if you inhale a lot of fibers over a long period of time, like an industrial type of exposure, then that’s obviously a high risk. Much like, say, exposure to cigarette smoke or something, the higher the exposure the more risk. So, we don’t want to sensationalize the risk.
Most products in homes are safe if the asbestos is bound up in a sheet. If it’s lose – like if it’s in insulation – that’s a risk and dangerous, and that should be professionally removed. It’s important – as you mentioned – not to cut it, drill it or do anything to mechanically abrade the surface so that you get dust, because it’s breathing in that asbestos dust that’s a danger.
When we talk about a scratch test, yes, you moisten the area and just give it a light little scratch. That’s not really any significant risk of exposure to a person in doing that test.
But you can get laboratory tests done. It costs about $60 for each sample, and if you go online, you can find labs and they will describe how you can safely take a sample and send it off to their labs through the post – that’s legit – and get it tested.
Kevin:  Yes, I suppose just Google would be the best place to start, and if you really want to go to the full extent and you have a house and you’re not quite sure, you can always get the audit that Andrew mentioned as well. That’s an asbestos audit.
My advice is to take all precautions when you’re dealing with it and to make sure you do your homework.
Andrew, thank you for joining us and updating us on asbestos. Thank you very much for your time.
Andrew:  Thanks, Kevin. Thanks for having me on the show. Cheers.

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