Home reno’s could lead to ‘third wave’ of asbestos disease

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  Last updated February 15, 2019 at 1:49 pm

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Home DIY-ers are putting themselves at risk of mesothelioma, says a lung expert, urging people to educate before they renovate.


young home renovators


Bashing through a wall or refreshing your kitchen or bathroom could be putting home renovation DIY-ers at risk of asbestos-related diseases, warns a lung disease expert.


With the popularity of home renovation TV shows and high housing prices, young families, including children, are on the front line of the next generation of asbestos-related disease, dubbed the ‘third wave’.


While many manufacturers removed asbestos from building materials in the 1980s, there are many old houses that may contain a wide range of asbestos risks, including flooring, roofing and fencing.


Asbestos-containing products were banned in Australia in 2004.


However, with Australia previously being one of the biggest users of asbestos combined with a modern-day lack of awareness, younger generations are putting themselves at risk, with just one exposure to asbestos dust or fibres enough to cause the onset of mesothelioma, says Sonja Klebe, a medical researcher from Flinders University who specialises in researching mesothelioma.


While there are no immediate symptoms, and we often wouldn’t expect such bad luck from something as innocent as a little DIY handy work,” she says.


“Information about the risks, and the materials containing asbestos, is readily available but the community needs constant reminding.”


Each year in Australia there are over 700 new cases of asbestos-related disease diagnosed, with less than 6% of patients surviving more than 5 years.


While in the past miners and manufacturers of asbestos products, and the tradespeople who used them, were at risk, Klebe says the risks now are more widespread.


“If accidentally exposed to fibres or dust from home renovation or demolition, even a child or baby asleep or playing in a nearby room is at risk of developing these deadly lung and related diseases in 10 to 20 years’ time,” she says.


Klebe strongly encourages home DIY-ers to research asbestos products before embarking on any projects.


“We urge DIYers to not disturb any materials until they’ve been tested or checked, including vinyl or carpet, or windows and eaves, which might contain asbestos.”


Checking for asbestos with a certified laboratory; paying a licensed subcontractor to remove the flooring, interior walls, roofing material or fence, and making sure you follow the safe removal and disposal routine for asbestos are vitally important precautions, she says.


Additionally, there are a range of resources online about asbestos products around the home.


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About the Author

Ben Lewis
Ben Lewis is the Editor of Australia’s Science Channel, and a contributor to Cosmos Magazine. He has worked with scientists and science storytellers including Brian Cox, Chris Hadfield, Robert Llewellyn, astronauts, elite athletes, Antarctic explorers, chefs and comedians. Ben has also been involved in public events around Australia and was co-writer, producer and director of The Science of Doctor Who, which toured nationally in 2014 in association with BBC Worldwide Australia & New Zealand. Want more Ben? You can hear him on ABC and commercial radio in Adelaide, regional SA, across NSW, and the ACT. He also speaks at universities around Australia on communicating science to the public. Around the office he makes the worst jokes known to mankind.

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