The hidden dangers of spring cleaning

The temperature in Brisbane is starting to rise, signalling that parties, barbeques, and Spring is just around the corner. It’s easy to get into the ‘Spring clean’ mood by renovating or freshening up the exterior of your home. Most people are aware of the use of asbestos in post-war homes, but not everyone realises that asbestos can be still be found in homes built or renovated before 1990.

Using power tools like electric sanders or high-pressure cleaners on asbestos containing materials can be dangerous and is prohibited in Queensland. The force from these tools can break apart the material, sending asbestos fibres into the air and surrounding environment. These microscopic fibres are invisible to the naked eye, and can become lodged in the lungs once inhaled (Queensland Government, 2016). Asbestosis, mesothelioma, and lung cancer are all potential health effects linked to exposure.

In the last six years, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland responded to 33 events involving high pressure cleaning of asbestos containing materials. Homeowners in Queensland can expect fines up to $10,000 and clean-up costs can reach $50,000 if neighbouring properties are contaminated. (Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, 2019)

If you can’t identify the material used, you can pay to have it professionally tested. If testing isn’t an option, it is best to assume that asbestos may be present.

Some simple safety measures are:
– Avoid disturbing any materials that may contain asbestos. Undamaged and undisturbed, asbestos containing materials are generally safe.
– Don’t use powered equipment on asbestos containing materials
– Apply a fungicide and sealant, and talk to your local roof restoration, paint or hardware store for advice on how to look after your home
– Consider having any asbestos containing materials professionally replaced

Remember, next time you are in the mood to freshen up your home, take the time to check for asbestos containing materials. If in doubt, assume asbestos is present and seek further advice. Call 13 QGOV (13 74 68) or consult www.asbestos.qld.gov.au for more advice, practical guidance, and resources.

Contributed by Matthew Hess

References:
Queensland Government. (2016). Asbestos: A guide for minor renovation. Retrieved from https://www.asbestos.qld.gov.au/sites/default/files/asbestos-home-renovators-trades-guide.pdf?v=1551837789
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland. (2019). High-pressure water blaster used on asbestos roof. Retrieved from https://www.worksafe.qld.gov.au/injury-prevention-safety/alerts/incident-alerts/2019/high-pressure-water-blaster-used-on-asbestos-roof

One comment

  1. What a well written article Matthew and a very interesting read. I always knew that cleaning was hazardous!!! I often wondered who would sign up for a career as a professional asbestos remover as the likelihood of accidental exposure is significantly high should their controls render ineffective (e.g. PPE or respirators). There are several difficulties with identifying exposure – not knowing that a house is clad with asbestos materials and the latency effect of symptoms arising well after exposure. I was surprised to learn that asbestos was still used up until 1990. Your recommendations regarding assuming asbestos is present is well founded. It is in everyone’s best interest to have their house professionally tested before any high pressure cleaning is conducted.

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