History of Asbestos

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fibre that can cause lung diseases, including cancer. It was used widely in the construction industry during the 1950s, '60s and '70s, and also in shipyards, power stations, boilermakers and plumbing.

In the mid 1970s the public was alerted to the dangers of asbestos and it was gradually phased out and replaced by alternative products, such as fibreglass. Until recently it was used in gaskets and brake linings but in 2004 it was banned entirely. It can no longer be used, recycled or imported.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a versatile product, which withstands heat, erosion and decay and has fire and water resistant properties.

Friable asbestos material is any material that contains asbestos and is in the form of a powder, or can be crumbled, pulverized or reduced to powder by hand pressure when dry.

Bonded asbestos is produced when asbestos fibres are bonded to another material, such as a cement or resin binder. It cannot be crumbled, pulverised or reduced to a powder by hand pressure when dry.


From January 2009, should the removal of Asbestos containing material be over 10 square meters, it will need to be removed by a licensed asbestos removalist.  For further information, please review our policy at the bottom of this page or visit the WorkSafe NSW website.

Effects on Health

Asbestos is formed in fibre bundles and, as it is further processed or disturbed, the fibre bundles become progressively finer and more hazardous to health.  The small fibres are the most dangerous.  These smaller fibres are invisible to the naked eye and penetrate deep into the lungs upon being inhaled.

Significant health risks may arise from the inhalation of airborne asbestos fibres. Compared with straight amphibole fibres, chrysotile fibres are curly and less likely to penetrate the deepest parts of the lung.

The inhalation of fibres brings a risk of asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.  Evidence has shown that asbestos causes gastrointestinal and laryngeal cancers in humans, but to a far lesser extent than lung cancer. In most cases there is a delay or latency period of 20 to 40 years between first exposure and the onset of symptoms and/ or the detection of the disease.  It must be noted that Asbestos related diseases can appear or progress after a person is no longer exposed.

Asbestosis is the scarring of the lung tissue that can result from the breathing in substantial amounts of asbestos over a period of years.  The main symptoms, associated with this disease, are breathlessness which may lead to disability and, in some cases, death.  Minor changes in x-ray images may not be detected for many years without any symptoms of asbestosis or progression of the disease.

Lung Cancer is related to the amount of fibre that is breathed in and the risk of lung cancer is greatly increased in those who also smoke tobacco.

Mesothelioma is a cancer of the pleura (outer lung lining) or the peritoneum (the lining of the abdominal cavity).  The risk of mesothelioma is less with chrysotile than with the other types of asbestos.  This type of cancer is associated with exposure to both amosite and crocidolite type asbestos.  Mesothelioma rarely occurs in less than 15 years from the first exposure, and most cases occur over 30 years after first exposure (Working with Asbestos guide; 2008: pg4).

In the instance of working with cancer causing substances, there are no safe levels of exposure for lung cancer or mesothelioma, which has been identified.  It has been recognised that the amount of asbestos fibres in the air that is being inhaled is the important factor in determining the level of health risk.  The risk is increased depending on the concentration of asbestos fibres in the air.

For more information, please see link to safework website below, contact Council on (02) 6959 5510, or come to the Council Chambers and ask to speak to a member of staff about asbestos.


Monthly Council updates: