What is Asbestos?

Asbestos refers to a group of six types of silicate minerals that occur naturally in the environment as bundles of fibres that can be separated into thin, durable threads for use in industrial and commercial applications. For much of the 20th century, asbestos was viewed as the “miracle mineral” due to its various desirable properties. Physical characteristics of asbestos that made it widely used in numerous applications are:

  1. Thermal stability
  2. Chemical resistance
  3. Strength under pressure
  4. Water resistance
  5. Suitability for reinforcing and weaving
  6. Electrical resistance

In Australia, asbestos was commonly used in building materials between the 1940s and the late 1980s. Consequently, many buildings throughout Australia built between this period still contain asbestos until today.

Types of Asbestos

The three types of asbestos that have found significant commercial and industrial uses are:

Chrysotile asbestos


Crocidolite asbestos


Amosite asbestos


Asbestos-containing materials fall into two broad categories:

Friable Asbestos

Friable is used to refer to asbestos-containing materials that is more prone to damage and can be easily reduced to powder when crushed by hand when dry. When being disturbed or damaged, friable asbestos-containing materials can release inhalable asbestos fibres into the air and contaminate the environment. Friable asbestos contains more than 1% asbestos by weight. Friable asbestos-containing materials must only be removed by an A-class licensed asbestos removalist.

Non-friable Asbestos

Non-friable or bonded asbestos is used to refer to asbestos that is more resistant to damage and abrasion, so is likely to release hazardous fibres into the air. Non-friable asbestos-containing materials cannot be damaged by the human hand and often contain up to 15 per cent asbestos. They are mainly made from asbestos fibres together with a bonding compound (e.g. cement). A B-class licensed asbestos removalist is allowed to remove non-friable asbestos-containing materials.

Why is asbestos dangerous?

Why asbestos dangerous

Cases related to asbestos in Australia


Mishandling of asbestos material

Asbestos is a carcinogenic substance and threatens human health. Due to its nature, you need to handle asbestos materials with care. Mishandling of asbestos can cause it to release fibres at an accelerated pace, endanger your life and contaminate the environment.

For this reason, it’s important to keep your environment free from asbestos contamination.

According to the local regulations, here are a few steps you can do to minimise asbestos contamination:


  • If you believe a home renovator, homeowner or owner-builder is unsafely handling, removing, or transporting asbestos material or a person has illegally dumped asbestos waste, contact your local council.
  • If you believe a contractor, business or an occupant at a commercial premise, is unsafely handling, removing or transporting asbestos materials, contact the Department of Justice and the Attorney-General.

Roofing materials containing asbestos

Asbestos in roofing materials is one of the common issues that most property owners might have faced. This condition is worsened by the fact that some Australian cities have quite extreme weather patterns. Those cities have a humid subtropical climate, where natural disasters such as thunderstorms, large hail, torrential rain, and destructive winds become a normal part of their typical weather conditions.

Illegal asbestos dumping

Another major concern related to asbestos mishandling is illegal dumping. The government is concerned that some renovators and contractors are not handling and disposing of asbestos waste in a safe and lawful manner.

Every year, half a million dollars of ratepayers’ money is spent on cleaning up illegally dumped waste in Australia. Even more, money is spent on fixing infrastructure and natural areas impacted by illegal dumping.

Illegal dumping has some serious impacts, such as damaging infrastructure and the natural environment, decreasing property values, and causing chemical and physical pollution in the neighbourhoods and waterways. 

Products containing asbestos

General products

  • Fibre Gaskets
  • Vinyl products
  • Asbestos sheets Fireproofing & prevention materials
  • Electrical cloth & electrical panel partition

Construction material

  • Insulation material
  • Floor backing & drywall taping compounds
  • Ductwork connectors & flexible duct connectors
  • Adhesives and gold bond adhesives

Where asbestos can be found in a building?

Asbestos was widely used in residential, commercial building and government properties throughout Australia. Many houses and buildings built before 1990 in Australia are highly likely to contain asbestos.

Up until the 1960s, 25% of all new housing was clad in asbestos cement in Australia. (Leigh J. etal. 2002, Malignant Mesothelioma in Australia, 1945-2000).

Where you can find asbestos

Regulations governing asbestos

On 31 December 2003, materials containing all forms of asbestos were no longer able to be sold, used, reused, manufactured, imported, supplied, stored, transported, installed or replaced in Australia (Safe Work Australia 2010b). 

For that reason, it’s important to check and determine whether your property has asbestos or not. Before conducting any work on asbestos, check the local council website to learn more about this dangerous substance.

What should I do if I find asbestos on my property?

If you think there may be asbestos materials in your house, don’t panic. Look for signs such as abrasions, tears, or water damage.

Asbestos materials that aren’t disturbed or damaged are not likely to pose a health risk. Often, the best thing to do is to leave the material alone if it is in good condition. An asbestos material that is in good condition and will not be disturbed will not release asbestos fibres.

Asbestos materials may release fibres when they are damaged, disturbed, repaired, removed improperly, torn, cut, sawed, sanded, scraped or drilled. Keep an eye on asbestos materials and visually check them over time for signs of damage or wear.

Transfer stations and Authorised Landfill sites for asbestos waste

Asbestos waste is classified as hazardous and must be disposed of properly. Before any asbestos removal or demolition work, you should identify which waste facility is licensed by the EPA for disposal of asbestos waste. Hazardous waste transfer stations can accept asbestos waste and then arrange to have it disposed of at an authorised landfill site.

For more information about the disposal of asbestos waste, contact the local city council.

Government agencies that deal with asbestos

Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency

Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency were established to give a national focus about the issues of asbestos that go beyond workplace safety that include environmental as well as public health concerns.

Website: click here

ABN: 50 802 255 175

Address: Level 10, 255 Elizabeth Street Sydney NSW 2000

Email: enquiries@asbestossafety.gov.au

Phone: 1300 326 148

Fax: (02) 6204 2029

National Asbestos Exposure Register

This is the register created by the Australian government that documents the members’ details of the community that believe they might have been exposed to asbestos. It is managed by the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency.

Website: https://www.asbestossafety.gov.au/asbestos-health-risks-and-exposure/national-asbestos-exposure-register

ABN: 50 802 255 175

Address: Level 10, 255 Elizabeth Street Sydney NSW 2000

Email: enquiries@asbestossafety.gov.au

Phone: 1300 326 148

Fax: (02) 6204 2029

Safe Work Australia

Safe Work is a statutory body of the Australian government that was established in 2008. Safe Work develops national policy associated with WHS and also worker’s compensation.

Website: click here

Email: info@swa.gov.au

Address: Safe Work Australia, GPO Box 641, Canberra ACT 2601

Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists Inc. (AIOH)

It is a premier professional association of Australia that represent the interests of occupational hygienists. Also, it promotes and preserves the health and wellbeing of workers of Australian using the knowledge, practice and also standing of occupational health as well as occupational hygiene.

Website: click here

Phone: +61 3 9338 1635

Email: admin@aioh.org.au

Address: Unit 2, 8-12 Butler Way / PO Box 1205, Tullamarine Victoria 3043, Australia

National Association of Testing Authorities, Australia

It is the authority providing independent assurance of technical competence using a proven network of qualified practise industry experts for customers requiring confidence in the in their products and services delivery.

Website: click here

Phone: 1800 621 666

Address: Head office Sydney / PO Box 7507, Silverwater, NSW, 2128


The organisation is supervised by an elected Committee of Management, which consists of volunteer members governing the affairs of the organisation as well as a small contingent of paid staff.

Website: click here

ABN: 74 776 624 469

Phone: (03) 9654 9555

Address: 247-251 Flinders Lane, Melbourne VICTORIA 3000

Department of the Environment and Energy

This department both designs and implements the policy and programs of the Australian Government. The programs include to protect and also conserve the environment, water as well as heritage, provide sufficient, reliable and affordable energy, and promote climate action.

Website: click here

Office: King Edward Terrace, Parkes ACT 2600, Australia

Address: GPO Box 787 Canberra ACT 2601, Australia

Environment Protection Authority (EPA)

The main regulator of environment policies and issues in Australia. The purpose of this agency is to enhance the performance of the environment and waste management.


Website: click here

Phone: 131 555 (or (02) 9995 5555 from outside NSW).

Email: info@environment.nsw.gov.au (please state what you are enquiring about in the subject line).

Postal address: PO Box A290, Sydney South, NSW 1232.

Online form: online form

Fax: (02) 9995 5999.

Local EPA office: local EPA office.

EPA South Australia

Website: click here

Phone-local call: (08) 8204 2004

Freecall-non-metropolitan: 1800 623 445

Fax: (08) 8124 4670

Email: epainfo@sa.gov.au

EPA Western Australia

Website: click here

Office Address: Level 4 The Atrium 168 St Georges Terrace Perth, Western Australia 6000

Phone: +61-8-6364 7000

Email: info.epa@dwer.wa.gov.au

Postal address: Environmental Protection Authority Locked Bag 33, Cloister Square Perth Western Australia 6850

EPA Northern Territory

Website: click here

Phone: 08 8924 4218

Email: ntepa@nt.gov.au

Location: Level 2, Arnhemica House, 16 Parap Rd, Parap

Postal Address: GPO Box 3675, Darwin NT 0801 Fax: 08 8942 6554