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Asbestos Insulation in Australia

Loose-fill asbestos insulation in an Australian roof space.
Image Courtesy: Asbestos in NSW.

On 31 December 2003, Australia implemented a complete, nation-wide ban on asbestos-containing products including loose-fill insulation and other insulation products. This ban remains in force, and covers the import, manufacture and use of all asbestos-containing materials.

How Has Asbestos Insulation Been Used?

Asbestos insulation was commonly used to provide thermal or acoustic insulation in buildings and industrial settings. Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral, was valued for its fire-resistant, heat-resistant and durable properties. In insulation materials, asbestos fibres were incorporated to enhance the material’s ability to resist high temperatures and prevent the transfer of heat. Common applications included insulating pipes, walls, ceilings and HVAC systems. In addition to the popular loose-fill product, asbestos wrappings, spray-on insulation and block insulation were also used to insulate homes.

When Was Asbestos Insulation Introduced in Australia?

Asbestos insulation became prevalent in Australia during the mid-20th century. It saw widespread use in residential, commercial and industrial construction projects. This type of insulation involved incorporating asbestos fibres into materials designed for thermal or acoustic insulation.

In the late 20th century, and with increasing awareness of the health risks associated with asbestos exposure, the use of asbestos in Australia started to decline. Regulations and restrictions were implemented to control and ultimately phase out the use of asbestos – not just in insulation, but in construction and all other industries. Today, asbestos insulation is recognised as a hazardous material, and there are strict guidelines and protocols in place for its management, removal and disposal. The focus has shifted towards asbestos abatement and ensuring the safety of individuals during renovation or demolition activities. The introduction and subsequent reduction of asbestos use in Australia reflects a broader global effort to decrease the health risks associated with asbestos exposure. Due to its fluffy airborne nature, asbestos loose-fill insulation is considered particularly high risk and should never be disturbed except by a licenced professional.

What Are the Health Risks Associated with Asbestos Insulation?

Asbestosis is a chronic lung disease caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibres. Over time, these fibres can cause scarring of the lung tissue, leading to breathing difficulties, coughing and chest tightness. Asbestosis is irreversible and can be progressive, even after the exposure to asbestos stops. Inhalation of asbestos fibres increases the risk of lung cancer. This risk is particularly high among individuals who have been exposed to asbestos over prolonged periods, such as workers in asbestos-related industries.

This can also contribute to Mesothelioma which is a rare but aggressive cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart. It’s important to note that asbestos-related diseases often have a long latency period, which means symptoms may not appear for many years after initial exposure. Additionally, the severity of any health consequences depends on factors such as the duration and intensity of exposure, the type of asbestos fibres involved, and physical vulnerability of the individual.

An elderly man sits on his couch experiencing chest pain after being exposed to asbestos insulation in Australia.
Inhalation of asbestos fibres increases the risk of lung cancer.

Older Homes in NSW Particularly at Risk

If your home was constructed before the 1990s in Australia and if the insulation in your roof space is the loose-fill type, then there is a heightened risk that the insulation may contain asbestos. To assess the presence and condition of “friable” (easily crumbled) asbestos, you will need to hire a licenced asbestos assessor. Asbestos becomes most hazardous when fibres become airborne, so professional removal is a requirement for all loose-fill insulation containing asbestos. While homes built after the 1990s are less likely to contain asbestos, it can still be a good idea to get an inspection done, especially before undertaking any renovations or demolition work. This is the case for all parts of Australia, including Canberra, Sydney and Newcastle.

Disposal of Loose-Fill Insulation Containing Asbestos

Professional asbestos removal companies in NSW are required to adhere to the regulations as published by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).

It is illegal to place asbestos waste in kerbside bins, in an uncovered skip bin or any skip bin not approved to hold asbestos. It is also illegal to reuse, recycle or illegally dump asbestos products or asbestos contaminated waste. Fines of up to $7,500 for individuals and $15,000 for companies apply for breaches of these regulations.

Old garbage bins where someone has dumped harmful asbestos insulation.
Illegally disposing of asbestos can result in hefty fines.

NSW Government Loose-Fill Asbestos Program

The Loose-fill Asbestos Program is for NSW residents whose properties have been confirmed to contain loose-fill asbestos insulation. The program is designed to provide support for residents living in New South Wales. Within the program, property owners are presented with various alternatives, including the option for the NSW Government to purchase the property at its market value. Shortly after, the impacted property will then undergo demolition and the land will be subject to remediation.

Other Laws Regarding Loose-Fill Asbestos Insulation in NSW

Loose-Fill Asbestos Insulation Register

The register, known as the Loose-fill Asbestos Insulation register, is a documentation of houses or other properties in NSW that have been confirmed (through positive testing) by NSW Fair Trading to have loose-fill asbestos in their roofs. The register is mandated by the Home Building Act of 1989, outlining the responsibility of the NSW Government in this regard.

Property Tagging – Warning of LFAI

Property tagging occurs when a house which has loose-fill asbestos insulation, has been put on to the register. A warning sign must then be displayed on the main switchboard. This serves to warn all tradesmen or service workers that come to work on the property, that there is loose-fill asbestos insulation within the house.

Mandatory Disclosure by Councils on Planning Certificates

Changes have also been made to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000. Under the amendments, it is now a requirement to add a property being listed on the Loose-fill Asbestos Insulation register as a matter to be included on a section 10.7(2) planning certificate (often referred to as a zoning certificate). Where the register confirms the presence of loose-fill asbestos insulation in a property, this must be disclosed on the certificate.

Property Transaction Notifications

The NSW Government updated the rules in the Conveyancing (Sale of Land) Regulation 2022 to make sure buyers are aware of any loose-fill asbestos insulation. When selling an affected property, the sales contract must have a warning about the loose-fill asbestos insulation which has been confirmed by the register. The warning serves as a reminder to potential buyers to consider the risks associated with LFAI.

Real Estate Agent and Tenancy Laws

In New South Wales, several changes have been made to keep people informed about properties with loose-fill asbestos insulation. For renters, the Tenant Information Statement now includes details about LFAI. Under the Residential Tenancies Regulation 2019 if a property gets listed on the LFAI register while someone is renting it, the landlord must notify the tenant in writing within 14 days. This ensures everyone involved is aware of potential asbestos risks.

The same is required from real estate agents, under the Property and Stock Agents Act 2002, if a property is on the public register for having loose-fill asbestos insulation (LFAI), it’s considered a “material fact” – i.e. important information which the potential buyer has a right to be informed about before they enter into a contract.