Health and safety

What is the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease?

Asbestos fibres that are breathed in pose a risk to health. However, breathing in asbestos fibres does not necessarily mean a person will develop health problems. The risk of developing an asbestos-related disease varies from person to person and depends mainly on how many fibres have been breathed in and for how long.

We are all exposed to very low levels of asbestos in the air we breathe. There are usually between 10 and 200 asbestos fibres in every 1,000 litres of air. This means we breathe in up to 3,000 asbestos fibres per day. Despite this, very few people experience ill effects from this exposure.

People can be exposed to higher levels of asbestos at different times in their lives, for example in their workplace, community or home. Evidence that this kind of exposure increases the risk of asbestos-related disease is very limited. A small increase in risk cannot be excluded, but a large increase in risk is unlikely.

There is only a low chance of developing an asbestos-related disease outside workplace-related exposure to asbestos, however it is very important to take precautions to minimise the number of fibres you breathe in.

If you have health concerns because you have lived in, worked in, or visited an affected property, you should consult a qualified medical practitioner. Go to the living in an affected home page for more information.

What if I have visited a house that contains loose-fill asbestos insulation?

Visiting a house that contains loose-fill asbestos insulation in a social or work setting would not have any significant health risks as long as the visit does not result in direct contact with fibres through inhalation.

Work related visits are more likely to result in contact with fibres as workers may enter roof spaces or perform other activities that may disturb fibres.

Workers who visit homes with loose-fill asbestos insulation in a work capacity can find more information on the working in an affected home page.

What if I used to live in a house with loose-fill asbestos?

The risks associated with having lived in an affected home are low provided that the property was in a good condition, the loose-fill asbestos was undisturbed, and residents did not have direct contact with the fibres by inhaling them.

Even where renovations have been done that may have breached the ceiling or wall cavities or the underfloor spaces, the risk remains low.

Short periods of exposure to loose-fill asbestos, like during renovations, carries a low risk of developing asbestos related illness. The risk is even lower if Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was used.

You may be concerned about friends, family, service providers and tradespeople who visited or worked on your affected property. Remember that just because a person has been exposed to loose-fill asbestos does not mean they will develop an asbestos related illness.

I am a tradesperson that has worked on properties that contain loose-fill asbestos. What is my risk?

Most people who develop asbestos-related diseases in Australia have been exposed to much higher levels of asbestos fibres through working directly with asbestos or asbestos products.

Short periods of exposure to loose-fill asbestos, like working on a house with loose-fill asbestos insulation, carries a low risk of developing asbestos related illness.

If you used Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as prescribed by workplace health and safety guidelines, then the risk is even lower.

How long after first exposure does asbestos-related disease usually develop?

Asbestos-related diseases can take a long time to develop.

Mesothelioma is rarely diagnosed within 15 years of a person’s initial exposure to asbestos and may take up to 30 to 45 years to develop. Asbestosis, which normally requires frequent high-level exposure over a long period of time, can take 10 to 20 years to develop after initial exposure.

How can I find out if I might be affected?

For people without symptoms, there are currently no screening tests able to identify early stages of asbestos-related diseases.

Chest x-rays are not recommended as a screening test for the following reasons:

  • Chest x-rays cannot detect asbestos-related disease in a person whose only exposure to asbestos has been recent
  • An unnecessary x-ray represents a needless exposure to ionising radiation.

People who are concerned about their health should seek advice from a qualified medical practitioner who can provide an assessment of individual circumstances and exposure risks.

National Asbestos Exposure Register

The Australian Government has created a register to record the details of members of the community who think they may have been exposed to asbestos.

The National Asbestos Exposure Register is managed by the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency.

If you think you may have been exposed to asbestos either during the course of your employment, at home or in the community, you can register your details by visiting the National Asbestos Exposure Register.

Mental health and support services

Some homeowners and residents may experience stress and anxiety as a result of having a home with loose-fill asbestos.

NSW Health recommends individuals that require counselling support discuss their circumstances with their general practitioner in the first instance, as they are in a position to recommend the most appropriate support.

Options available from general practitioners include:

  • Referral to a mental health practitioner under a Mental Health Treatment Plan, which covers 10 sessions a year under Medicare
  • Referral for private counselling/psychological assessment.

LifeLine

a 24-hour counselling, information and referral service. Local call cost from a landline; free from mobiles.

13 11 14
www.lifeline.org.au

Mental Health Line

a 24-hour telephone service, operating seven days a week across NSW

1800 011 511

Beyondblue

support and counselling. Information on depression, anxiety and related disorders, available treatments and where to get help.

1300 224 636
www.beyondblue.org.au

Kids Helpline

online and telephone counselling for children aged between 5 and 25 years of age

1800 551 800
www.kidshelp.com.au

Eheadspace

online and telephone support and counselling to young people 12-25 years of age

1800 650 980
www.eheadspace.org.au

Mindhealthconnect

online self-help programs
www.mindhealthconnect.org.au

Prev Mandatory tagging
Next Working in an affected home