Australia’s History With Asbestos (And How It Relates To Insulation)

Insulation in Melbourne – and the rest of Australia for that matter – hasn’t always had the best history. During the early and mid-1900s – we were using a substance known as Asbestos for several things including insulating our homes. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral with a soft and flexible fibrous appearance. It has impressive properties such as being heat and corrosion-resistant. So why don’t we use it anymore? Today’s blog is going to be detailing the gruelling history that our country has had with the substance and why it was used as insulation in the first place.

Asbestos’ historical roots

Asbestos has been found to date back to as long as 4000 B.C where it was used as wicks for candles and lamps. Later on, ancient Egyptian pharaohs were wrapped in cloth made from asbestos that protected their bodies against deterioration. It is also said that the ancient Greeks used it as insulation in their homes due to its heat resistant properties – as well as to wrap their dead before burning them to prevent the ashes and fire from mixing.

Whilst it was used throughout history – it wasn’t until the late 1800s that the asbestos industry started to really flourish as the substance’s commercial benefits and uses started to become apparent. As it became more popular and widely used, however, so did the hazardous side-effects of it.

Asbestos in Australia

Australia had one of the highest global rates of asbestos use per person up until the mid-1980s. Between 1930 and 1983, around 1.5 million tonnes of the substance was mined and imported from Australia. What was it used for? A lot. If your house was built pre-1990 then there’s a high chance that it contains some degree of asbestos. It was used for a variety of things such as, but not limited to:

  • Walls;
  • Vinyl and carpeting;
  • Wall tile lining;
  • Expansion joints;
  • Packing under beams; and
  • Insulation

Fireproofing and soundproofing were two big uses of friable asbestos in Australian homes and commercial properties as well between the ‘30s and ‘80s. Asbestos is still being discovered in buildings today.

Friable and non-friable asbestos

Asbestos was separated into two main categories – friable and non-friable. Friable products would easily crumble and, when they did, would release asbestos particles. Non-friable asbestos was a lot harder and more rigid as it was usually mixed with something else such as cement – however, asbestos particles would also be released if the structure was broken. This is why if asbestos is found in properties today it’s recommended that you don’t disturb it as it could trigger the release of the harmful particles.

Asbestos and insulation

In addition to fireproofing and soundproofing, asbestos was also used as loose-fill insulation in Melbourne and the rest of Australia. It was the dream substance – naturally occurring as well as heat/fire/water/erosion and decay-resistant. All these properties made it highly desirable and were why it was used so abundantly in homes for so long. Unfortunately, this dream substance had a terrible secret that revealed itself the hard way.

The negative side-effects

In 2003, Australia – along with several other countries – banned asbestos from being used in products. Breathing in the fibres from asbestos caused asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma (which is a rare type of cancer caused by asbestos). The more that people were exposed and the more fibres they breathed in, the more likely they were to contract one of the above diseases. To this day, Australia has the second-highest rate of mesothelioma deaths in the world.

Are you looking for insulation in Melbourne?

Asbestos is still prevalent in today’s society, but for the last 40-50 years, Australia has been using much safer insulation options such as glasswool and polyester. The options we have today in terms of insulation are much more effective options compared to asbestos. Insulation Essentials is your one-stop-shop for all your insulation needs – whether they be batts, rolls or accessories.

Our friendly and knowledgeable experts are always happy to chat if you’re unsure what the right pick for your home is and can help you make the right decision. We also offer next day delivery and installation services as well to ensure your project runs seamlessly and stays on track.

If you’d like to get in touch with our experts about finding some insulation in Melbourne, then please don’t hesitate to contact us via our website or call 03 8339 7111.