As the process of cleaning up and rebuilding homes destroyed by the October fires begins, it’s a timely reminder for homeowners to be aware of asbestos risks.
Asbestos was used in many building materials in homes built before 1987, and can be present in anything from vinyl floor tiles, to wall sheeting, gutters, fencing and carpet underlay.
When asbestos is disturbed — often during renovation or demolition — and fibres released in the air are inhaled, this can lead to asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma, with an average survival rate of just 6-18 months after diagnosis.
Mount Riverview resident Daniel Clift lost his wife Dianne last year to mesothelioma, and shared his story during asbestos awareness month to ensure no-one else needlessly lost a loved one.
They had been married for 46 years when she died at age 65, just 15 months after diagnosis.
Inhaling asbestos fibres when her Sydney workplace was being renovated and when the couple’s Mount Riverview home was rebuilt after a house fire in 1976 was thought to have caused the disease.
“Dianne and I would visit the site [their home] on a regular basis and generally clean-up after the builders. This involved raking up rubble which, had that not been done, a lot of rubbish containing what I now realise contained asbestos, would have been left lying around the building,” Mr Clift said.
The couple had no idea asbestos was deadly, and in 1982 proceeded to cut and drill into
fibro sheeting to create a lattice fibro fence to screen part of the backyard.
Mr Clift has often asked himself why he wasn’t affected.
But that’s the mystery of renovation roulette.
“It only takes one little asbestos fibre to do the damage — then it doesn’t relent and starts multiplying in size,” he said.
Mr Clift was his wife’s primary carer with the assistance of the Mountains medical and nursing fraternity, and they received a lot of services and equipment from the Dust Diseases Board, as well as the then active mesothelioma support group at the Bernie Banton Centre at Concord Hospital.
“Seeing her go through that I wanted to give as much support to the cause to see it recognised and educating people this is a dicey product, a good product, but a dicey product,” Mr Clift said.
He has talked to scores of people even today who are unaware of the dangers of asbestos.
“I’ve talked to builders and home renovators who say they’ve been working 30 years with the stuff and ‘it hasn’t affected me’, but it takes a long time to come out and then it’s so quick,” Mr Clift said.
The Asbestos Diseases Research Institute recommends using a licensed professional asbestos removalist for any asbestos removal.
The institute expects the rate of asbestos-related diseases will top previous ‘waves’ of the disease and there will be an epidemic in coming years, particularly among homeowners renovating their home who do not know how to handle asbestos safely.
“When it comes to asbestos, it is essential that people don’t cut it. Don’t drill it. Don’t sand it. Don’t saw it. Don’t scrape it. Don’t scrub it. Don’t dismantle it. Don’t tip it. Don’t waterblast it, and most importantly, don’t dump it,” said Asbestos Education Committee chair Peter Dunphy.
For more information on managing asbestos in the home, visit the website www.asbestosawareness.com.au