With a total of 259 homes confirmed destroyed in Northern NSW from bushfires since Friday, November 8, Armidale Regional Council and the Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia have warned residents returning to fire damaged homes and properties about the possibly stirring up deadly asbestos fibres by sifting through the remains of buildings.
Council Waste Management program leader Shane Anderson said a high proportion of homes built before 1987 contain asbestos products, and the use of asbestos fibro sheeting was particularly prevalent in farm sheds and outbuildings.
"It was a building product that was used extensively, not just in Australia but world-wide, so it's a problem everywhere," he said.
"And it's not just fibro. It can be in some linos. It's in pipe lagging, backing on tiles, hot water system lagging, hot water pipe lagging and some cement works that you see in sewerage has asbestos in them.
"So, it's not just your everyday wall cladding."
Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia president Barry Robson said intense heat from bushfires often shattered bonded asbestos products, allowing deadly fibres to mix with ash and other debris and become airborne.
"As people return to their homes it is a natural instinct to search through the remains for cherished possessions that may have survived the blaze, but it is essential that people protect themselves and their families from potential dangers," he said.
"Losing your home is tragic enough, but the last thing anyone wants is to add the future suffering of asbestos related diseases because appropriate safety precautions weren't taken."
Mr Robson said suitable asbestos masks and disposable suits could be purchased from most major hardware stores, while thoroughly watering down the debris would also limit the risk of spreading asbestos fibres in the wind or by other disturbance.
Mr Anderson recommended a proper mask, overalls and disposable footwear be worn when searching though fire damaged dwellings or sheds built before the late-1980's.
"Clothing will pick up fibres and shouldn't be reused. They need to be disposed of in a plastic bag, double wrapped, and stored away for disposal at a licensed landfill," he said.
"You should get professionals in to dispose of asbestos at any time you think there are damaged asbestos items in your household.
"It doesn't matter if it has not been though a fire - if your're thinking of renovations you need to consider asbestos and how that would be best handled."