Asbestos safety in bushfire-affected areas

If you are returning to a bushfire-affected area, you should be cautious about the risk of asbestos in fire-damaged properties (asbestos is a known carcinogen).

During a bushfire, the amount of asbestos fibres released into the air is likely to be low. However, asbestos clumps and fibres may remain on the ground, and if disturbed could be inhaled.

If you suspect your property could be contaminated, do not start clean-up until you have been told it is safe.

This information explains:

  • where you’re likely to find asbestos
  • the safety precautions to follow to minimise your risk of exposure to asbestos.

This information is aimed at home owners, business owners, volunteers, and others attending bushfire-affected properties.

Where you are likely to find asbestos

As a general guide, houses, sheds and buildings built before 1990 are likely to contain asbestos.

Asbestos has been used in over 3,000 products, including those used in home areas commonly renovated or repaired:

  • bathrooms
  • kitchens
  • under vinyl floors, behind tiles and in carpet underlay
  • carports, sheds and outbuildings
  • guttering, downpipes and roof sheeting.

You can’t tell if a material contains asbestos just by looking at it. Only scientific testing of a sample can confirm this.

Leave asbestos clean up to professionals

If you suspect there is asbestos at your property, do not clean it up. Asbestos must only be removed by a licensed asbestos removalist. To find one, go to our Asbestos Removalist and Assessor list for contact details of licensed professionals.

Use protective clothing

If you are visiting your property and sorting through rubbish, wear protective clothing and footwear to minimise your exposure to asbestos, airborne dust and other hazards.

Safety equipment should include:

  • disposable P1 or P2 face masks. Make sure you get a good seal around the face and mouth; take care if you have a beard or facial hair that might prevent this. Face masks can make normal breathing difficult so talk to your doctor if you have a heart or lung condition first
  • disposable coveralls with fitted hood and cuffs
  • boots without laces
  • boot covers
  • protective gloves.

You can purchase these items from a hardware store, but during the current crisis they may be in short supply.

To use safely:

  • put your protective gear on before entering your property
  • remove it before you leave
  • place it in a garbage bag and seal it after use; dispose of it as asbestos waste
  • clean your shoes before wearing them again
  • wash your hands thoroughly with soap.

You should minimise your disturbance of dust and ash. If possible, dust should be gently wetted down before you begin using a fine spray, not high-pressure hosing.

If you’re unsure whether your property contains asbestos and you don’t have the appropriate personal protective equipment, avoid areas where there is ash or dust that may contain asbestos fibres.

Resources

WorkSafe Tasmania resources

Asbestos safety

Bushfires

Other resources

Air quality: Department of Health (external link)

Bushfires and air pollution: Safe Work Australia (external link)

Keeping rain water tanks safe in bushfire-affected areas: Public Health Services (external link)

Returning home after a bushfire: Public Health Services (external link)

Tasmania Fire Service (external link)

Updated: 22nd January 2020