Asbestos roofs in Sydney – Are bonded asbestos roofs dangerous to your health?

painted super six asbestos roof in southern Sydney

On Easter Sunday, 2012, the Sydney Morning Herald had a leading story titled “Asbestos, the outlawed fibre with a licence to kill”. There were also several support stories about the ‘terrors’ of asbestos.

So, how close were the media to the truth about asbestos – especially the type of asbestos that a Sydney roofer like myself would come across almost daily?

We are talking about bonded asbestos roofing. These come in the corrugated profile. A large profile called “Super Six” and a smaller corrugated profile similar to the size of metal corrugated roof sheeting.

Our health authorities banned the use of asbestos on roofs because they deemed it to be dangerous to our health.

The authorities also banned smoking – but took the soft option and people can still buy cigarettes and smoke in private and open areas. Smoking has been proven to be dangerous to our health, but we continue to tolerate it.

Vehicle exhausts will also shorten our lifespans – but we cannot do without our cars.

There are hundreds of thousands of asbestos roofs in Sydney. So exactly how dangerous is an asbestos roof if you are living underneath one in Sydney?

The Asbestos diseases foundation of Australia says:

‘…Following are the main diseases caused due asbestos exposure.

         — Asbestosis
         — Lung Cancer
         — Mesothelioma’

Large doses of exposure to asbestos fibres is required for someone to get asbestosis. So this is the disease of the miners and factory workers who worked with the asbestos – not the normal Sydneysider.

Lung cancer has so many possible causes that it may be difficult to identify cases where asbestos fibres are the main culprits.

…and that leaves mesothelioma. This is an asbestos cancer – although there are some other minor causes also.

In November 2010, a report by the NSW Ombudsman outlined the case for the safe handling of asbestos. It compared NSW road fatalities to Mesothelioma – nearly two road deaths for every asbestos death. That’s right, double the people die on our NSW roads than from mesothelioma.

Maybe it should have looked at the other statistic from the Cancer Institute of NSW. In 2007, mesothelioma accounted for only 0.6% of new cancer cases.

Bonded asbestos building materials are such common items in a typical home or workplace. It would be safe to say that virtually every Sydney sider has been exposed in some manner.

But you are 15 times more likely to get skin cancer from sun exposure than from getting mesothelioma from bonded asbestos exposure.

The conclusion?

Sydney siders are extremely unlikely to get mesothelioma from living near or under a bonded asbestos roof.

The workers who work with bonded asbestos roofs (mainly in removal and disposal) have a slightly higher risk – and that is why all the rules and regulations are written for them.

What if you still don’t like an asbestos roof?

Even armed with all this asbestos knowledge, I must admit that I do not like bonded asbestos roofs. Maybe because they are brittle to walk on. Mostly, it is in the mind – and nothing to do with reality.

For those who want to get rid of their asbestos roof, I recommend replacing it with a colorbond metal roof. We used to remove the bonded asbestos ourselves, but I find it easier to use a specialist asbestos removal service to do all that. They will remove the bonded asbestos sheeting, vacuum away any asbestos fragments and spray the roof cavity with PVA glue.

We will then install a colorbond roof with insulation blanket to provide a much more energy efficient roof.

The video below shows one of our typical asbestos replacement roofing jobs:

And where does the bonded asbestos go?

…To an approved bonded asbestos cement tip – at quite an expensive cost.

I have been to an asbestos disposal tip, and what they do with the bonded asbestos material there may hurt your feelings – so I won’t go there….

By Jack Yuen

Now in my early 60's, I started work as a civil engineer specialising in building things. In 1999, the Sydney hailstorm struck and I was asked to fix all the broken roofs in the eastern suburbs. Today, I have a great bunch of roofers and we go around Sydney tracking down roof leaks and fixing them or putting on colorbond metal roof replacements...

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