Environmental Effects of Asbestos

November 22, 2022

Sebastian Tiller

The environmental effects of asbestos are important to consider when determining your management plan. Despite the Australian government banning its use in manufacturing, due to its adverse health effects, it still poses a health risk that building owners need to address.

Between 1920 and 2003 (when it was banned in Australia) around 12.8 million tonnes of asbestos containing material (ACM) was used in the manufacturing of various products. Estimates suggest that around 90% of this manufacturing was used in buildings and cement water pipes.

As a result, a lot of ACMs still remain in the environment, which is why we need to consider its impact on the environment and the health risks it poses.

How does asbestos affect the environment?

Asbestos affects the environment by contaminating it, which creates a health risk for anybody in the vicinity. There are many different ways in which land can become contaminated by asbestos, such as;

  • Illegal burial
  • Incorrect demolition or removal procedures
  • Fire damage
  • Storm damage
  • Contact with former ACM waste sites

Additionally, there are many areas in Australia where asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral. As a result, these naturally occurring minerals can be affected and disrupted by work or activities such as mining or demolition, which releases fibres into the air and creates a contamination risk.

Illegal dumping of ACMs is a major problem and should be reported to your local council or your state’s Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).

What are the environmental laws dealing with asbestos in Australia?

While the specifics of ACM laws depend on your state, they are broadly similar. All states and territories have requirements that revolve around not polluting the environment or unlawfully disposing of ACM waste. If you are transporting or disposing of asbestos, you must do so lawfully.

What this means is that ACM waste can only be disposed of at a licensed facility, and they must be wrapped, labelled and transported per the protocols of that facility. Putting ACMs in a domestic rubbish bin, waist skip or dumping it in the bush is a criminal offence that incurs big penalties.

Asbestos safety concerns can usually be addressed by contacting your: 

  • Local council if the work is being conducted by a neighbour (a homeowner or tenant)
  • Local council or state or territory EPA if the concern relates to public areas or illegally dumped ACMs in parks or bushland
  • Your local council or EPA if the concern is related to the transport and disposal of ACM waste

How do I dispose of asbestos?

If you need to dispose of asbestos, your aim should be to use the least disruptive method depending on the environment where the asbestos is present.

  • Wherever possible, use wet, non-destructive methods, as they limit the likelihood of asbestos fibres being released into the air. Saturation and water injection may be needed during friable asbestos removal. 
  • Dry removal should only be used when wet spray methods are not suitable (e.g. near electrical equipment or other electrical conductors). 
  • Negative air enclosures, glove bag methods or continuous misting sprays may also be needed.

What risk does asbestos pose to my health?

Exposure to airborne asbestos fibres can cause significant harm to anybody in the surrounding area, as they are incredibly easy to inhale. These fibres then travel to the lungs and cause damage. 

Depending on the quantity inhaled, these fibres can cause extensive damage to the lungs, which can then result in life threatening diseases, such as;

  • Asbestosis
  • Lung cancer
  • Pleural disorders
  • Mesothelioma

What should I do if I suspect I have been exposed to asbestos in my workplace?

If you believe you have been exposed to ACM fibres you should take the following steps:

  • Contact your employer, who should take immediate action to remove the ongoing risk; or your state or territory work health and safety regulator if that does not occur.
  • Arrange an appointment with your GP to discuss the associated health risks and request advice regarding any health assessments that your GP considers appropriate.
  • It is also recommended that you register your details on the National Asbestos Exposure Register (NAER).

How can Octfolio help me mitigate the environmental effects of asbestos?

Octfolio comes with a wide range of features that help identify exposure sites as well as record all of the important information about them. On top of Operandio’s asbestos register functionality, it also allows you to map ACMs across multiple building locations, making it an invaluable asset for any business. 

In fact, Octfolio contains every function that you need in order to successfully handle all aspects of asbestos management services, including;

  • Asset management
  • Report management
  • Compliance management
  • Document management
  • Maintenance management
  • Digital asbestos register
  • Field data collection
  • Automated reporting
  • Workflow automation
  • Risk calculator
  • Asbestos mapping software

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Sebastian Tiller

Seb has a long history of delivering elegant solutions to complex business problems that conform to the most exacting compliance standards. He prides himself on his ability to connect with customers and humanise software solutions to be understandable and useful to all parties. He’s also enjoys playing story-based single player games and spending time with his young family, building LEGO, attending recitals, and experiencing new restaurants with his wife.

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