Asbestos Information

Asbestos is a very small size fiber that was used in the past mainly as insulation, but its uses date to ancient civilizations It was also added to some building materials to provide added strength and flame resistance. The problem with asbestos is that it has been shown to cause lung cancer and mesothelioma in individuals that were exposed to large amounts of free-floating asbestos fibers in the air. These conditions typically did not become apparent until around 30 years after the exposure. Because of the health hazards of asbestos fibers, its use in insulation and paint was banned in the 1970’s.


What you need to know about asbestos

Homes built prior to the 1970’s could contain asbestos in insulation, plumbing, paint, wall joint compound, and other building materials. However, as long as the materials are in good condition, they pose no danger. Asbestos is only a threat if the fibers are released into the air and can be inhaled. Renovations or removals of materials containing asbestos can release the fibers into the air. Therefore, the National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) requires the owner of any property containing asbestos building materials to get an asbestos inspection prior to any demolitions or renovations of that property.

How can asbestos be removed

If your home contains asbestos, you have two options: removal of the material or sealing the material to prevent it from releasing fibers. Either option requires the help of a trained professional.

How do I know my home has asbestos

If you suspect your home or a home you are considering buying may contain asbestos, it’s vital you get a thorough inspection by a qualified professional. Asbestos can only be detected by a special microscope. Our inspectors are trained in asbestos detection and will take samples from your home for further analysis. Please contact our office for further information

Pealing pipe

Asbestos detection and identification

Asbestos is a very dangerous, so if you suspect it is present in any material you come into contact with, make sure it is positively analyzed as either containing asbestos or not containing asbestos. The only reliable method to determine if a material contains asbestos fibers is laboratory testing with highly specialized equipment. Depending on the type of sample the test methods include:

  • Energy Dispersive X-ray Spectrometer microanalysis (EDS)
  • Phase Contrast Microscopy (PCM)
  • Polarised Light Microscopy (PLM)
  • Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM)
  • Transmission Electron Microscope (TEM)

You can see great close up asbestos images here Microanalysis Australia.

Below left:Asbestos (crocidolite) fibers with Polarised Light Microscopy (PLM)
Below right: Asbestos insulation board magnified

PhotoCredits: sarflondondunc

Why analyze suspicious materials

  1. Occupational health and safety. During a renovation or demolition always check whether if any suspect materials contains asbestos. Any material with a positive result requires special handling during removal and disposal. This is vital for both DIY renovators and any subcontractors that discover any suspect material. Keep a copy of a negative laboratory report to avoid any potential asbestos exposure problems.
  2. Disposal and demolition clearance. Asbestos is incresingly harder and more expensive to dispose of. For example, many profiles of Hardiflex and Hardifence are difficult to distinguish between those containing asbestos and those made from the safe cellulose based material. Many waste disposal operators specifically state not to dispose of any asbestos products with general waste as this may cause an entire skip bin or truck load to be rejected at the refuse site. A laboratory report guarantees all non asbestos material. Any old vinyl tiles, linoleum or hessian carpet underlay may contain asbestos. If you are renting a skip bin to dispose of a large amount of non asbestos fiber cement sheeting, a laboratory report will document its composition, if some question is raised by the disposal company.
  3. Sale of property. Any asbestos present on a property being sold, or any material suspected of being or containing asbestos will impact the sale price. It is advised to obtain certified lab report showing no asbestos found prior to any remodel or addition.

How to collect a sample for laboratory analysis

You need pliers, re-sealable plastic bags, P2 respirator mask with disposable cartridge, disposable rubber gloves, PVA glue, plastic drop sheet and a water sprayer.


  • Spread plastic drop sheet to catch any material that falls off while sampling
  • Wear respirator mask and disposable gloves
  • For dirty job or overhead sampling always wear disposable coveralls
  • Turn off any fans or air conditioning if indoors , work only on a non windy day if outdoors

Sampling asbestos

  • Dampen the area with the water spray bottle
  • Remove a thumbnail sized piece of material with the pliers. For fiber cement sheeting, take a sample from the corner edge or along an existing hole or crack
  • Place all samples in a re-sealable plastic bag
  • Double bag the sample and be sure to write the date, location and Warning! Asbestos! on both sides of the bag

Sampling fiber cement

Sampling asbestos in vinyl tiles, linoleum and linoleum underlay

Linoleum, linoleum underlayment and older vinyl tiles may contain asbestos. To take a sample, find an open edge of the linoleum and snip off a small corner. If there is no open edge use a hole punch to take a sample. With vinyl tiles use a trimmer to cut a corner and then carefully lift it with a paint scraper.

Sampling carpet underlayment

Some carpet underlayment was manufactured from hessian bags which were used to transport raw asbestos. Take a sample for analysis before you start removing any old carpet underlayment.

Queensland Laboratory published a guide to carpet underlayment sampling:

Hessian Carpet Underlay – Sampling Procedure.

Sampling friable asbestos

Be extremely careful if you are unlucky to encounter friable asbestos. Friable asbestos is a loosely bound material that when dry could crumble or be crushed by hand into a powder. NEVER DO THIS! It can easily release asbestos fibers. Friable asbestos is found in old heaters and stoves, acoustic ceiling tiles, fuse boxes, ceiling insulation (very rare), lagging on hot water pipes and some types of decorative ceilings.

Above: Old hot water pipe lagging and decorative ceilings may contain friable asbestos. Photos: sarflondondunc

If you encounter any of this, then I’d strongly recommendcalling in a professional asbestos consultant, as friable asbestos should be treated with care. Also keep in mind some Australian states require friable asbestos to be removed by a licensed removalist with an A class certificate. If you insist on sampling friable asbestos yourself then make sure you’re equipped with: full body coveralls, P2 cartridge respirator, safety glasses and disposal gloves. In addition you will need a plastic drop sheet to collect any spillage, a water sprayer, pointed pliers, tweezers, scissors and PVA glue.


  • Turn off any fans or air conditioning and close any doors or windows.
  • Lay down a plastic drop sheet to collect any spillage.
  • Spray sampling area with water to reduce dust.
  • Use tweezers, pliers or scissors to take a sample and put into bag, then seal it. Double bag this along with an asbestos warning, date and location.
  • Seal sampled area with PVA/water solution.
  • Clean up.

Bagging the samples

Always DOUBLE BAG all samples and attach a warning label, date and location

Clean up

  • Seal all where samples were taken with PVA glue such as Aquadhere
  • Carefully wrap the used plastic drop sheet with tape and then put it into another plastic trash bag
  • Wipe all tools and equipment with a dampened rag and discard the rag
  • Place disposable gloves, dampened rag and drop sheet in a trash bag
  • Carefully seal this plastic trash bag
  • Wash your hands and clothing
  • Keep respirator, goggles and coverall on until clean up is completed

Laboratory cost and results

Complete laboratory analysis with a certified report costs between $50 to $200 depending on the type of sample submitted and the analysis method used. TEM/SEM analysis is usually more expensive than PLM analysis.


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