The Hidden Dangers of Asbestos Fences
One of the asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) that was widely used as house material is asbestos cement (AC) sheeting. It is estimated that in Australia over 60% of all production and 90% of all consumption of ACMs took place in the AC manufacturing industry. Until now, this dangerous material is still exists in many buildings in Australia.
Why was the Material Widely Used?
One of the reasons for the extensive use of the ACM was because of its unique property. It is durable, flexible and not to mention cheap. Starting from the end of World War II till 1945, there were 70,000 houses constructed using AC in New South Wales alone. Up until the 1960s, 25% of all new residential buildings was cladded in AC in Australia.
AC sheet is the product of non-friable asbestos or also known as the bonded asbestos type. It contains a high percentage of ACM fibres fixed in a solid cement matrix, and it is the most common ACM material used in housing. This material usually contained chrysotile, yet, older types could contain crocidolite or amosite, that is white, blue and brown asbestos.
Asbestos Cement is also known by other names such as ‘fibro’ or ‘AC sheeting’. The fibre contained in AC is around 10-15%, but sometimes this figure can reach as much as 40%. The product of AC may be found in:
- Exterior wall cladding
- Floor tiles backing
- Water pipes
- Domestic heaters insulation
- Hot water pipes insulation
Does My House Contains Asbestos Products?
To confirm whether or not your house was installed with any products of ACM, you need to check the age of your property. Houses built before the mid-1980s until the end of 1990s are highly likely to be installed with fibrous products. On the other hand, for houses built after 1990s, they are unlikely to be installed with products containing fibrous material. ACM was officially stopped being mined, manufactured or sold in December 2003. So, does your house belong to the older building category?
To check whether your house was installed with an ACM, you need to do a testing, especially for those older houses. The testing is needed because you cannot confirm the presence of the ACM only by looking at the material. It is needed to be analysed.
Conduct a walkthrough inspection to identify the ACM. You should always check inaccessible areas to identify this dangerous material. Taking notes and photos during the inspection is important because the note is useful for producing the asbestos register later on.
Asbestos Fence Facts
As previously mentioned that one of the products of AC can be found in fencing. If you notice that you have cement sheeting installed in your house, there is a huge chance that it contains bonded type of ACM. For example, if your fence is made from cement sheeting, there is a possibility that it has ACMs. Yet, you still need to test it because there is a similar cement fence without asbestos material that have been used since 1990.
If the cement fence sheeting is grey in colour, about 7 mm thick, also corrugated or contoured than it contains ACMs. The other types of fences that do not contain fibrous material are metal such as COLORBOND, or made of wood.
To identify an asbestos fence, you can recognise its characteristic features:
- It has ‘Super Six’ as its brand name (the non-asbestos material is known with the name ‘Hardifence’)
- Its size is usually 7 ridges per metre wide panel (non-ACM is normally 5 ridges)
- It uses diamond shaped metal fasteners, and the non-asbestos usually have none
- The surface pattern is hessian (crosshatch-like)
- Having asbestos cement capping
Still, the best way to confirm whether your fence contain asbestos is by having it tested at a NATA accredited laboratory.
Though asbestos cement products are commonly strong and long-lasting, they have been subject to weathering by sun, rain, hail, wind and salt (for properties in coastal areas such as Central Coast). So, your fences are also possible to get weathered and deteriorated. Weathering will erode the cement matrix surrounding and binding the asbestos material. The fibre bundles will be more prone to disintegrate or be airborne and then potentially causes a risk by inhalation.
The deterioration can also be caused a by physical damage linked to garden plants, collisions by vehicles or another equipment, even by uneven position of the fence that causing the fences to lean and broke. The important fact is that the greater the age of the fence, the more damage it may become and then it finally needs to be replaced.
Treatments for ACM Fencing
For undamaged fences or a minor damage, repainting can be used to minimise the level of fibrous exposure and risk. However, do remember that you need to monitor continuously the condition of the fence for a more serious damage.
Removal is subjected to fences that endure serious damage like when the panel is broken. A leaning fence is also needed to be removed because it may collapse and break later. Once it endures a serious damage, fibres can be released from the broken sheet. The fibres then get inhaled and induce a serious health risk. That is why for severe damage, the only solution is having it removed and replace by a non-fibrous material.