Managing asbestos hazards following storms and floods
If you live in a flood-affected community you need to know the potential hazards to avoid including asbestos and know what to do to manage asbestos safely.
Why can asbestos-containing materials be dangerous following floods and storms?
When homes and other buildings containing asbestos are damaged during floods, wind and storms (including hail storms), the materials can become eroded, disturbed, broken or friable causing a health risk to homeowners, property owners, property managers and the community.
If you are a resident who has been affected by storms and floods, you must:
- ALWAYS follow the advice of Emergency Services and Council.
- NOT ENTER PROPERTIES until authorised to do so as many buildings may be structurally unsound and vulnerable to collapse.
- NEVER enter floodwaters on foot or attempt to cross or drive through swollen rivers, streams or floodwaters!
- NOT walk through flooded streets because of the risks of debris and the tops of drain manholes may have been lifted by floodwaters.
What you need to know to manage property health and safety risks on your property
If your property has been damaged by storms, floods or heavy winds, you must take a number of safety precautions to protect yourself, your family and the community including being aware that asbestos could be present and what you need to do to manage asbestos and other risks safely.
- CONTACT COUNCIL OR EMERGENCY SERVICES if you are unsure of health and safety procedures. They can provide valuable information including for asbestos while Council may have an asbestos management plan in place for you to follow.
- DO NOT ENTER A PROPERTY OR STRUCTURE if there appears to be structural damage. Seek advice from suitably qualified person(s) which may include (but not limited to) structural engineers, utility companies, emergency services and the like. If the damaged structure is presumed to be asbestos-containing, a licenced asbestos assessor and/or licenced asbestos removalist should also be contacted prior to reoccupation.
- ASBESTOS must be managed and disposed of safely in accordance with regulations.
- NOT JUST FIBRO HOMES CONTAIN ASBESTOS – More than 3000 different types of asbestos-containing products were manufactured and can be found in one-in-three Australian homes including brick, weatherboard, fibro and clad homes.
- KNOW WHAT MATERIALS TO LOOK FOR – Identify asbestos-containing materials by visiting our extensive Asbestos Products Database.
- KNOW WHERE TO LOOK FOR ASBESTOS IN HOMES – Download our free Residential Checklist for Homeowners.
- LEARN WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TO MANAGE ASBESTOS SAFELY! Check out our extensive list of fact sheets including WORKING SAFELY WITH ASBESTOS AROUND THE HOME.
- IF ASBESTOS IS PRESENT ON YOUR PROPERTY, WE RECOMMEND ONLY USING LICENCED ASBESTOS REMOVALISTS – While it may be legal in NSW and in some other states and territories for homeowners to remove small amounts of asbestos themselves, (e.g. up to 10 square metres in NSW), we recommend you avoid the risk and leave asbestos work to the experts by only using licenced asbestos removalists.
Additional potential hazards you must be aware of during floods and storms include:
- Electrical hazards – Live power lines may be down or solar panels may be active. If electrical lines are down, ensure the electricity supply has been turned off by a licensed electrical contractor or energy supplier.
- Structural damage to properties – Homes, commercial properties and other structures (such as sheds, garages and stock sheds etc.) may be unstable and at risk of collapse.
- Displaced structures – Sometimes floodwaters can displace entire homes and sheds as well as broken and stockpiled pieces of asbestos commonly known as fibro. Fibro can be in many forms, including the form of flat or corrugated sheets which, if damaged by storms and floods, can be broken into smaller pieces and washed away in floodwaters.
- Building rubble and flood debris – Asbestos-containing materials, sharp edges, protruding nails and broken materials including glass and timber can be found in building rubble, damaged structures and flood debris.
- Corrugated asbestos roofs – Do not walk on roofs made of asbestos as they may collapse. The roofing is already old so erosion, heavy rains, winds and tree branches may have caused damage to the roof as well as the walls of the structure.
- Hazardous materials – Always wear PPE when dealing with hazardous materials including asbestos and dispose of PPE according to regulations. If you find yourself in an emergency situation and are unable to access full PPE, at the bare minimum, always wear heavy-duty rubber gloves, sturdy footwear and a P2 mask when handling wet asbestos. To find out what you need to know about PPE including how to wear it and dispose of it safely, download our PPE fact sheet here.
- Sewerage services – Disruptions can cause health risks by contaminating water, properties and the environment.
- Damaged trees – Trees can be uprooted and damaged during high winds and heavy rain causing falling branches.
- Displaced animals – Animals can become dangerous when displaced or traumatised.
- Creepy crawlies – Just like humans, other creatures will try to escape the storm and water so be aware that snakes and spiders may be taking refuge among or under debris. Always be cautious during the clean-up and if required, contact WIRES.
- Wildlife – Many native animals and birds will require specialised handling and MUST be rescued (or supervised) by trained wildlife rescuers. If you find wildlife in distress contact WIRES or phone 1300 094 737 or call Emergency Services in your area.
- Pets and farm animals – Avoid approaching animals in distress. Even domestic pets can become aggressive if frightened. There are a number of animal rescue organisations that can help. Contact your local Council or Vet who should be able to advise you on who to contact. In an emergency contact Emergency Services or Police.
ASBESTOS IN PROPERTIES IMPACTED BY STORMS & FLOODS
- All damaged or eroded asbestos-containing materials must be treated with caution according to regulations.
- When wet, damaged asbestos-containing materials are not considered as dangerous as when they are dry.
- Asbestos-containing materials should remain wet. Once dry they can cause a high risk to health if fibres are released that can become airborne and be inhaled. They can contaminate surfaces, tools, vehicles and land requiring professional remediation.
What are the property types that may contain asbestos?
- Asbestos can be found in any home or other domestic or farm-type structure built or refurbished prior to 1990 including garages, sheds and fences.
- For commercial and non-residential properties such as shops or public buildings, asbestos can be found in any building constructed or refurbished prior to December 2003.
- Commercial and non-residential properties should have an asbestos register. Contact the person responsible for managing the register (the property owner, manager or contractor) for information on the locations of asbestos risks and hazards.
Where could asbestos be lurking on your property?
- Asbestos may be in many forms including flat or corrugated sheets (fibro) used for walls, ceilings, roofing or in products such as pipes, electrical conduit, eaves, wall and floor tiles and other structures including garages and garden sheds.
- In coastal regions, often “weekenders or shacks” were constructed from flat and corrugated (fibro) sheeting including external and internal walls and ceilings.
- In rural and regional areas, in addition to homes; fences, storage sheds, chook sheds, outhouses and stock sheds may have been constructed from asbestos. For more information download the Fact Sheet FS3: SAFE PRACTICES FOR RURAL & REGIONAL HOMEOWNERS & FARMERS.
- In Commercial and Non-Residential Properties asbestos continued to be used in multiple locations prior to 31 December 2003. Types of commercial & non-residential properties may include any structure that is not a private dwelling. For detailed information on safe management of Asbestos in Commercial and Non-Residential properties download the handbook.
- Naturally Occurring Asbestos (NOA) may also pose a risk in rural and regional areas where NOA has been identified if disturbed or uncovered during floods and heavy rains. If you live or work in a region where NOA is known to occur, download our NOA handbook and resources here.
Do you live in a community housing property?
If you live in a community housing property that has been damaged by storms or floods and may contain asbestos, contact community housing in your state or territory for assistance.
Managing asbestos hazards caused by storms and floods
Storms, floods and heavy winds can cause serious damage to properties including homes, commercial and non-residential properties and farm structures.
Whole buildings and even stockpiled asbestos-containing materials (particularly flat or corrugated sheeting commonly known as fibro) can be picked up by floodwaters and moved from one location to another. So, even if your home was built after 1990, it is likely that miscellaneous debris and rubbish including asbestos-containing materials from elsewhere can end up on your property.
Should you find displaced structures and debris containing asbestos on your property, it’s vital that these materials are managed safely and in line with regulations.
Do’s and Don’ts of managing storm or flood-damaged asbestos
The first rule is, if you think a building material, product or debris may contain asbestos, treat it as if it is asbestos and take all the necessary precautions in line with regulations!
WHAT TO DO:
- CONTACT COUNCIL who may have an asbestos management plan in place for you to follow.
- IDENTIFY asbestos-containing materials by visiting our extensive Asbestos Products Database.
- ENSURE ALL ELECTRICITY IS TURNED OFF before starting work where water may contact electrical installations.
- ENSURE YOU KNOW WHERE DAMAGE may have occurred to asbestos-containing materials that remain in situ (walls etc.) so they can be kept wet before they’re cleaned and sealed.
- TAKE CARE WHEN CLEANING asbestos-containing materials to avoid damage.
- CLEAN asbestos-containing materials (walls and other materials) by ONLY using garden hoses or by hand. If cleaning by hand, use light pressure and detergent which may be in a trigger spray bottle or bucket.
- CHECK THE SURFACE you are cleaning regularly to ensure it’s not being damaged in the process.
- AFTER CLEANING, SEAL ALL IN SITU asbestos-containing materials. For cracks in fibro apply PVA glue with a paintbrush or use paint to seal cracks and surface areas.
- KEEP DAMAGED asbestos-containing materials wet before and during removal to minimise asbestos cross-contamination.
- ENSURE YOU ONLY REMOVE BROKEN ASBESTOS-CONTAINING MATERIALS such as small pieces that have broken from structures or found in debris.
- SEPARATE DAMAGED asbestos-containing materials from all other debris.
- WEAR PPE – Full PPE is best but, if you find yourself in an emergency situation and are unable to access full PPE, at the bare minimum, always wear heavy-duty rubber gloves, sturdy footwear and a P2 mask when handling wet asbestos. PPE and P2 masks can be purchased from hardware stores (if available). To find out what you need to know about PPE including how to wear it and dispose of it download our fact sheet here.
- NOTE: WE RECOMMEND USING LICENCED ASBESTOS REMOVALISTS to remove any amount of asbestos.
WHAT NOT TO DO:
- DON’T BREAK asbestos-containing materials.
- DON’T WALK ON ASBESTOS ROOFS as they may collapse.
- DON’T USE ORDINARY DUST MASKS, handkerchiefs or bandannas instead of P2 masks.
- DON’T USE ABRASIVE CLEANING products or materials on surfaces. Only use detergent and a cloth, sponge, a soft brush, broom or standard garden hose.
- NEVER USE HIGH-PRESSURE WATER CLEANERS OR WATER BLASTERS to clean roofs and other asbestos-containing materials such as internal or external walls.
- NEVER USE POWER TOOLS such as drills or sanders.
- DON’T USE ABRASIVE TOOLS to clean asbestos.
- DON’T SCRUB asbestos materials – this can loosen the surface and release fibres.
- DON’T REMOVE ASBESTOS MATERIALS altogether unless absolutely necessary.
- NEVER DISPOSE of asbestos materials in skips or ANY Council bins (red, green or yellow) or include it with rubbish or items for curbside collection.
- DON’T BURY asbestos-containing materials.
- DON’T BURN storm and flood debris as it may contain asbestos materials that can become friable and fibres can become airborne and be inhaled.
- NEVER DUMP asbestos-containing materials – FINES APPLY.
How to manage asbestos risks safely
If you suspect asbestos is on your property or in flood and storm debris, always assume asbestos is present and treat it as if it is asbestos by following these basic steps to ensure it’s managed safely following storms and floods.
Step 1: Contact your local Council
- Council may have special provisions or requirements in place for property owners to manage asbestos after storms or floods.
Step 2: Conduct a basic asbestos risk assessment of your property
- It doesn’t have to be complicated. As a guide, look around your property. The greater the damage and the greater the quantity of asbestos that is damaged or in need of demolition (such as roofs, walls, fences and sheds), the greater the potential hazard and the greater the risk to health when damaged and dry.
Step 3: Cleaning up asbestos after storms or floods
- Follow the Do’s and Don’ts (as above)
- Keep Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) debris wet by lightly hosing with water or spraying with a mixture of 5 parts water and 1 part PVA glue (if available). If PVA glue is not available, ensure it remains wet at all times.
- Once wet, seal or cover debris with a tarp or sheet, or similar. Keep the cover moist and pegged to the ground or weighed down to keep it in place.
Step 4: Sealing asbestos that remains in situ
- For asbestos-containing materials still in their original form and location, seal any small fractured or exposed edges with paint or PVA glue.
Step 5: Managing removal and demolition of asbestos-containing materials
- For small amounts of asbestos-containing materials such as pieces that may have been broken during floods or storms; these may be managed by property owners provided you contact Council first and follow their instructions and safety precautions.
- For large amounts of asbestos-containing materials (such as a building or shed), you can have it tested by an occupational hygienist or a licenced asbestos assessor. Contact The Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists or find a licenced asbestos assessor here.
- For removal and demolition of large amounts of asbestos-containing or friable materials; ONLY use licenced asbestos removalists who will come to your property to demolish and dispose of the materials safely and in accordance with regulations. Find a licenced asbestos removalist here.
- PLEASE NOTE: While it may be legal in NSW and in some other states and territories for homeowners to remove small amounts of asbestos themselves (e.g. up to 10 square metres in NSW), we recommend you avoid the risk and leave all forms of demolition and removal to the experts and only use a licenced asbestos removalist.
What to do if disposing of small amounts of asbestos
While we recommend only using licenced asbestos removalists to remove and dispose of asbestos-containing materials following storms or floods, if you need to remove and dispose of small amounts of asbestos, you do need to take special precautions including avoiding causing further damage to the materials and ensuring the asbestos waste is disposed of safely and correctly.
Note: The equipment used will be dependent on availability.
- If possible, erect some sort of signage to alert others that asbestos-containing materials are being removed to restrict access to the area.
- At a minimum, restrict access to the area by closing gates or doors.
- A bucket of water, watering can or garden hose to wet down broken or damaged pieces.
- PPE – at the bare minimum always wear a P2 mask, heavy-duty rubber gloves, sturdy footwear and if possible, protective overalls with long sleeves and trousers. See our PPE fact sheet FS4 for a complete list of items and instructions.
- Heavy-duty 200um thick plastic – this may come in sheets, rolls or bags. If bags, you will need to ensure you have two bags to double bag the contents. In some cases, this may not be available. Some government fact sheets have suggested using tarps to wrap asbestos waste if heavy-duty plastic is unavailable.
- Duct tape or gaffer tape – to seal the contents inside the plastic or tarp.
- A thick marking pen and/or a waterproof label that you can write on “Caution – Asbestos Waste. Do not open or damage bag. Do not inhale dust.”
What to do when collecting and disposing of small pieces of asbestos:
- Remove all jewellery including watches.
- If not already wet, wet the pieces of asbestos with water or spray them with a mixture of 5 parts water and 1 part PVA glue (if available).
- Put on your PPE gear as per instructions in our PPE fact sheet FS4.
- Pick up the pieces and place them into the heavy-duty plastic bags or on plastic sheeting (200um) that has been cut large enough to wrap all the pieces in and be sealed.
- Once all the pieces have been collected in the plastic bag or placed on the plastic sheet, remove your PPE and place it in the plastic bag or on the sheeting.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water.
- If using a plastic bag, tape or knot the top of the bag and place it inside a second empty plastic bag and knot or securely tape the opening to seal it closed.
- If using plastic sheeting or tarps – carefully wrap the contents and tape to seal. Then rewrap the package in a second piece of plastic or tarp and tape to seal.
- Clearly label the bag or package “Caution – Asbestos Waste. Do not open or damage bag. Do not inhale dust.”
- Wash your hands again thoroughly with soap and water.
- DO NOT DISPOSE of asbestos-containing materials in ANY Council bins (red, green or yellow), in skips or include it with rubbish or items for curbside collection.
- CONTACT COUNCIL or Emergency Services for information on disposal as asbestos waste.
IMPORTANT: DISPOSING OF ASBESTOS WASTE
Instead of risking transporting it yourself to an approved asbestos waste facility, when disposing of all asbestos waste including small amounts that are wrapped and sealed (as per above), we recommend contacting a licenced asbestos removalist who can come and collect the asbestos waste and dispose of it correctly.
In NSW a Licenced Asbestos Removalist will arrange WasteLocate Asbestos Waste Tracking (as outlined by the EPA for specific quantities) and ensure the materials are double wrapped in 200um plastic and sealed with heavy-duty duct tape (or the like) to ensure the materials are accepted at an EPA authorised waste disposal facility.
Why use a licenced asbestos removalist to collect the asbestos waste?
- Not all Councils have waste facilities authorised to accept asbestos waste.
- There is a likely chance you will have to pay tip fees by weight with some facilities charging a minimum fee.
What are the potential risks if asbestos materials are not wrapped correctly?
- Contaminating the vehicle you’re travelling in (yours, a friends or a hired vehicle),
- Contaminating the route you are travelling on; and,
- Running the risk that the tip will not accept asbestos if it’s not wrapped correctly.
What to do when demolishing or disposing of large amounts of asbestos
- Where whole buildings or large structures contain asbestos (walls, roofs, bathrooms etc.), we recommend using an occupational hygienist or a licenced asbestos assessor or a licenced asbestos removalist to conduct a site inspection and test for asbestos.
- If the building or structure is to be demolished, only use a licenced asbestos removalist. You can find one here.
IMPORTANT: If the asbestos is in powder form or can be crumbled, pulverised or reduced to powder by hand pressure when dry, it must be removed by an asbestos removal contractor with a friable asbestos licence.
Managing Naturally Occurring Asbestos (NOA) following heavy rain and floods
If you live in a region where NOA has been identified, contact your local Council for instructions on how to manage exposed NOA safely and download our free Naturally Occurring Asbestos (NOA) Guide for further information and step-by-step instructions.
Need more information on hazards after storms or floods?
- For important information about working with asbestos read Safe Work Australia’s Model Code of Practice: How to safely remove asbestos July 2020.
- SafeWork NSW has produced a fact sheet: Asbestos – cleaning and/or removing asbestos-containing materials after storms and floods
- The Queensland Government has produced a fact sheet: Cleaning or removing asbestos after floods and storms
- The Queensland Government has produced a short video (5 minutes and 32 secs): Safe work procedure – storm and wind damage cleanup
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