WA Health is urging Western Australian homeowners to replace – not repair – their old asbestos roofs.
Asbestos Awareness Week (18-22 November) is a timely reminder that the asbestos cement sheeting commonly used in roofs, fences and cladding of older homes across Perth and regional WA towns is now at least of 30 years old and nearing the end of its useful life.
The use of asbestos building products was phased out in Australia through the 1980s and completely banned in 2003.
Asbestos fibres are hazardous to human health and breathing large amounts of fibres over a long period of time increases the risk of developing asbestos-related diseases including lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis.
WA Health’s Acting Environmental Health Executive Director Dr Michael Lindsay said of all asbestos building materials, roof sheeting was usually in the poorest condition as it is directly exposed to sun, wind, rain and hail, and often damaged by moss and lichen that grows on its surface.
“As asbestos roofs age they weaken, leading to the potential for breakage and even collapse,” he said.
“Asbestos fibres loosen and blow away and can get trapped in soils where roof water drips on or flows to the ground.
“They can even accumulate in the loft-space within the building.”
Dr Lindsay said while WA Health provided advice on safe methods for maintaining asbestos roofs, replacement was the preferred option.
“Cleaning and coating your roof is an expensive, and ultimately, short-term solution,” he said.
“Over time, asbestos roofs become brittle and more prone to damage and asbestos contamination spreading from any damage can lead to high clean-up costs, which may not be covered by your household insurance.”
Dr Lindsay reminded homeowners they should never use power tools or pressure cleaners to repair or clean an asbestos cement roof.
“This can generate large numbers of free, respirable (breathable) asbestos fibres that can contaminate both your property and properties nearby.”
In addition, Dr Lindsay said tradesmen might refuse to work on asbestos roofs and they might not be strong enough to support TV aerial, satellite dish or solar panel installation.
“All good reasons to replace your asbestos roof as soon as practical,” he said.
WA Health strongly recommends all asbestos roof sheeting is removed and safely disposed of by a WorkSafe-licensed asbestos removalist.
Removed asbestos cement products are a controlled waste and must be wrapped, transported and disposed of in an approved manner.
Local government websites provide information about how and where to dispose of asbestos cement products locally.