Asbestos-cement is a composite material consisting of cement material reinforced with asbestos fibres. When manufacturers found ways to produce a coating using asbestos-cement, it became very popular for a number of years before being banned in Australia in 2003.
Licensed inspectors can find this form of exterior siding during inspections. Both inspectors and homeowners can benefit from knowing more about how the known health risks caused by asbestos to asbestos-cement lining are applied, as well as some common problems and issues associated with damage and deterioration of the material.
The asbestos story
Asbestos cement was popular in Australia in the 1980s. Though some research conducted in 1970 found the hazards of using asbestos as building materials or other kinds of products, people were still enjoying the incredible properties an asbestos had to offer. Its physical strength and durability against fire have made most of the people used asbestos.
Due to the boom in the past, many buildings in the continent, including houses and commercial properties, are being contaminated by this deadly material up until the present.
Health risks associated with asbestos cement
Asbestos fibres are a proven health hazard if inhaled. Asbestos dust is a known cause of a type of lung cancer called asbestosis. Mesothelioma, another fatal form of cancer that attacks internal organs, can also be caused by exposure to asbestos.
However, asbestos cement coating that has been properly installed and is not in a state of decomposition poses no health risk to the extent that it remains uninterrupted. This is because the cement sticks with asbestos fibres and prevents their release into the air, under normal use and maintenance.
The EPA considers asbestos to be a hazard when it is in a friable state, meaning that it can be crumbled, crushed or sprayed by manual pressure. Asbestos crushed in a powdery form may allow its particles to pass into the air and be inhaled, causing potential health problems. Asbestos-cement products that are not in a friable state are not considered hazardous. The only potential danger is when the cement is disrupted in a way that causes asbestos to pass into the air.
If the mechanical activities performed on the coating, such as chipping, sawing, spraying or polishing, allow the particles to pass into the air, then the cement is considered to be in a friable state and, consequently, to be dangerous.
- The asbestos cement coating is very fire resistant and will not burn or melt like vinyl and wood linings.
- It resists the damage caused by termites.
- The decomposition resists.
- It has been made with textures intended to simulate the appearance of other coating materials, such as fine wood.
- It is fairly easy to clean and maintain.
- Unlike more porous materials, such as wood strip, asbestos cement will not absorb the paint so quickly, which allows it to be painted more easily.
- The asbestos cement coating is very brittle and can be easily chipped, cracked or broken.
- Using a pressure washer for maintenance can crack the coating and cause moisture intrusion if the pressure setting is high enough.
- Asbestos-cement can be dangerous if it is pulverised by sawing, polishing, breaking, etc.
- It is difficult to find replacement lining for fixtures.
- This product cannot be renewed, unlike other forms of a coating. The wooden slat, for example, can be polished and painted again, and the cedar slats can be sanded and dyed again. The two methods can restore the wood almost to its original state. But this is not possible with asbestos-cement lining.
- It is no longer considered aesthetically desirable.
Damage and deterioration can lead to structural and health issues. Therefore maintenance of asbestos-cement materials for construction is the primary concern. It is important to keep the coating clean and to perform any small adjustments as soon as possible when necessary.
The asbestos cement coating is quite brittle and has little resistance to cracks, chips and impact damage, which can cause asbestos particles to pass into the air. Damage to the cladding may also result in other damage related to moisture intrusion.
Damaged areas cannot be fixed but can be replaced with cement without asbestos fibres by a professional. Special fibre cement materials have been manufactured for arrangements that are intended to mimic the appearance of the asbestos cement coating.
The characteristics of landscaping, such as a row of shrubs, can be built around the house to help protect the liner from damage caused by impact.
Some tips for inspection
Here are some common problems related with the cement-asbestos coating that inspectors can find:
- Chipping and cracking can often occur with this brittle material.
- Locks used to hold the liner in place may deteriorate at a faster rate than the liner.
- Fading and staining can occur from corrosion or residue from an adjacent material. The discolouration may be normal, but may also indicate a chemical reaction that has decreased the durability of the material.
- Like many other cement products, efflorescence may appear on the asbestos cement lining. This crystalline growth may indicate that water is passing through the material, promoting the cement deterioration.
- Biological growth, such as algae and moss, can happen if the conditions are favourable. This growth can stimulate deterioration of the surface and stain it.
- Because it was such a popular lining material for many years, inspectors can often find asbestos-cement lining when inspecting exteriors. However, on some occasion, an asbestos material cannot be identified properly only through visual inspection. If this is the case, the best option to do is by sending some samples of the suspected material to an accredited lab for a more detailed analysis.
This method of asbestos testing will ensure the presence of asbestos fibres in one particular material. Since an asbestos testing must be performed in a lab that has been approved by NATA to carry out an asbestos analysis, you have to make sure that your building inspector chooses the right lab, don’t hesitate to look out the detail I recommend at https://www.asbestoswatchadelaide.com.au/asbestos-testing-adelaide/.
Knowing some health risks associated with this material can be helpful to keep the occupants of a building safe from any risk of asbestos fibre exposure. So, start your action soon or feel sorry in the end, your decision will define your future.