Even as many people in the country are aware of the dangers of asbestos, this material still remains embedded in the roofs, windows and floors of many older buildings. As long as asbestos isn't in its friable form, it can remain in place without causing harm to people nearby. However, asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) still remain a significant risk in both homes and businesses. It only takes a sudden disturbance (such as damage) of such materials to release friable asbestos into the air.
With these lingering risks, many countries around the world have implemented plans to remove asbestos from all commercial or residential buildings in the near future. For example, the Netherlands recently rolled out a five-year plan for removing all asbestos from building roofs by 2024. This ambitious plan was put in place to eliminate the lingering risk of asbestos being present in both commercial and residential roofs.
The big question that remains is would such a policy make sense in Australia? Indeed, with the millions of commercial structures that still contain asbestos, designing a legislative plan to eliminate all ACMs from commercial building roofs would be of great benefit to people and the environment.
The risks of allowing asbestos to linger in roofs
As much as most asbestos in commercial buildings exists in a non-friable form, there are many potential risks that could occur. Old structures will only continue to get older and damaged over the years. As a result, renovations will become necessary to restore roofs, walls, floors and other areas where ACMs were commonly used.
Instead of waiting for the inevitable, having a policy in place to remove these ACMs on a gradual basis is an excellent idea to protect the public.
Effect on asbestos disposal
While having a policy in place to remove all ACMs from commercial building roofs would certainly be beneficial, how would the policy be implemented? One of the primary concerns people have is how ACMs would be disposed of. Indeed, there would be a sharp increase in the number of materials that would need to be either dumped or recycled from commercial premises.
Safe disposal/dumping is currently the more popular option today, and it would certainly exert pressure on available landfills. However, with proper planning, safe asbestos disposal can be coordinated throughout the country to meet demand. In addition, cutting-edge research is being carried out to establish innovative ways of turning friable asbestos into an inert form. This would make it possible for much of the materials in question to be recycled for commercial use.
Other countries are taking advanced steps towards handling — and eventually eliminating — asbestos from homes and buildings. Perhaps it's time for Australian authorities to also step up and implement a long-term plan for asbestos removal and disposal in public places.