Currently, 33% of homes in Australia contain Asbestos. Prior to 1990, asbestos was a staple material used in building and insulating homes. Today, asbestos is banned in Australia because of the horrific health implications it causes. The 33% of homes containing asbestos are not necessarily at risk, provided the asbestos is not disturbed. Coming into bushfire season however, these asbestos riddled houses pose a risk to the people living there and in surrounding areas.
Bushfire in Yarloop
3 years ago a raging bushfire tore through a small country town (Yarloop) in Southern Western Australia. The blaze took 17 days to extinguish, and destroyed 181 homes. Yarloop was home to primarily old homes, in a seemingly bushfire prone area. The issue here is that older homes, are likely to have been built with asbestos products. The idea that fire destroys asbestos is false. Asbestos is in fact heat resistant and non flammable, which is why it was used in homes as a fire retardant and an insulation material.
Asbestos becomes dangerous when disturbed. A bushfire tearing through a town, and demolishing houses is about as ‘disturbing’ as it can get for asbestos. During the bushfire, asbestos fibres released into the air is likely to be quite low. Clumps and fibres of asbestos remaining on the burnt down property, in an easily disturbed place, is where the danger lies. It is recommended to avoid the area, however if visiting the site, you should take precautionary measures i.e. protective clothing and masks. A professional asbestos removalist must be consulted to test, remove and dispose of the debris safely and legally.
What to do
Bushfires and asbestos riddled homes are not a good match. If your home is located in an area at risk of bush fire, and you are unsure of if your home has asbestos, contact a professional to come do a test. Ensure you have a bushfire plan in place for if a fire does occur. After the fire, do not enter your home until it is deemed safe by the proper authorities, i.e. council. If you are concerned, consult a professional for advice.