Despite being banned from use in South Australia for many years, asbestos remains an ongoing threat to public health.
Asbestos fibres were widely used in the past because of their unique chemical and physical properties. They could protect against fire, corrosion, cold, acids, alkalis, electricity, noise, energy loss, vibration, salt water, frost, dust and even vermin.
Asbestos also had excellent friction and wear resistance, and so was used extensively in brake linings and clutch facings.
For a long time, the dangers of asbestos were not widely understood, but it is now well known that exposure can cause pleural plaques and thickening, asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
The scale of health risks associated with asbestos became publicly known after it had been widely used and many people had already been exposed. Asbestos-related diseases generally have a delay or lag period of about 20 to 40 years between first exposure and the onset of symptoms and detection of disease.
Asbestos becomes a health risk when fibres are released into the air and inhaled. It is unusual for an asbestos-related disease to develop from a single exposure. Generally a large, ongoing exposure to asbestos fibres is required.