How to deal with asbestos ‘fibro’ in soil at home

The most common form of asbestos found in homes is ‘fibro’ asbestos cement sheets or pipes – this is called ‘non-friable’ asbestos. Asbestos may be found in a powder form or in pieces that can be crumbled or crushed by hand pressure – this is called ‘friable’ asbestos.

If you have more than 10 square metres of fibro material or any amount of friable asbestos then you should use a licensed asbestos removalist.

Licensed asbestos removal contractors for both friable and non-friable asbestos removal can be found using the online search, along with information on asbestos including a code of practice how to safely remove asbestos.

Broken non-friable asbestos or ‘fibro’

If I decide to remove the non-friable asbestos pieces myself, what should I do?

Scenario1

While landscaping the back garden, you find a pile of old building materials behind a shed, half buried under thick weeds. Some of the pieces appear to be broken non-friable asbestos or ‘fibro’, but you are not sure. Most of the pieces are quite big and don’t look at all flaky, but when you look around the area, you find several smaller fragments. You are worried that they might get crushed and scattered by the lawnmower.

What should you do first?

Although asbestos was phased out of fibro products by the late 1980s,

if in doubt you should treat any fibro products as if they contain asbestos.

You should wear a well-fitting P2 dust mask (see figure 1, below), disposable gloves and appropriate disposable clothing that can be bagged up and disposed of with the fibro when you are finished2.

  1. Based on a case study from Asbestos – A guide for householders and the general public (enHealth 2013). (health.gov.au)
  2. Examples of appropriate protective equipment and clothing include a P2 dust mask, coveralls with a hood, safety glasses or goggles, and boot cover protectors. These items are commonly available from hardware stores, work clothing shops or specialist WHS providers. EnHealth’s Asbestos – A guide for householders and the general public provides additional information on appropriate protective clothing and masks.

There are special requirements for workplaces. But as a home owner you can remove small amounts of fibro from your property as long as you follow suitable health and safety measures and appropriately dispose of the fibro sheets and fragments, as described in this document and on the Asbestos Awareness website. If you are not comfortable with doing the work yourself and unsure of the appropriate safe work procedures, it is recommended that you use a licensed asbestos removalist.

The danger from asbestos arises if elevated levels of dust are generated and this dust is breathed in. So when cleaning up pieces of fibro keep the material damp but not flooded with water; and minimise further break-up of the fibro sheets or activities that cause dust to be liberated.

If practical, once you have removed the visible fibro sheets and fragments, you should gently rake wetted soil to 10cm depth to expose fibro fragments. All visible pieces of fibro should be removed by hand-picking and securing in a sealed bag. Never use power tools or saws on asbestos materials.

No visible fibro fragments should be present on the surface (top 10 centimetres) when you have finished.

How should I dispose of the asbestos?

Asbestos waste including fibro should be disposed of as soon as practicable. The materials should be kept damp until they can be double wrapped in heavy duty (0.2mm) plastic and sealed with tape and labelled as asbestos waste.

Asbestos waste can only be accepted at some landfill facilities. You should contact your local council or call the NSW EPA to find out the nearest lawful waste facility and contact the facility to determine if they have special requirements, such as particular times that they will accept asbestos waste.

Who can I contact for advice?

  • Contact your local council for information on local requirements and waste facilities.
  • For information about safely removing asbestos from your home, visit asbestosawareness.com.au
  • For information about the safe handling and removal of asbestos or a list of licenced asbestos removalists, visit safework.nsw.gov.au or phone the SafeWork Authority of NSW on 13 10 50.
  • For information about transport and disposal of asbestos waste, including a list of facilities that can accept asbestos waste, visit epa.nsw.gov.au or phone the NSW EPA Environment Line on 13 15 55.
  • For information about the health risks associated with asbestos, visit health.nsw.gov.au or phone the NSW Ministry of Health on 1300 066 055.
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