Do-it-yourself home renovators are regularly exposing themselves and their children to cancer-causing asbestos, a study of NSW residents has found.
Experts say the disturbing findings show that, despite repeated warnings, Australians are still not protecting themselves from asbestos-related diseases.
The study of almost 860 people who recently completed a do-it-yourself renovation found more than 61 per cent said they had been exposed to asbestos. More than one in five said their children had been exposed.
Co-author Anthony Johnson said the more people were exposed to asbestos, the more likely they were to develop conditions such as the deadly cancer mesothelioma.
''There is no safe level of exposure,'' said Dr Johnson, a respiratory physician from the Liverpool area. ''We don't want to scare people, because the overall health risks are low, but we do see people who have mesothelioma and the only exposure they can recall is something like this.''
Dr Johnson said, on average, mesothelioma would only develop 42 years after exposure.
''Asbestos was removed from fibro around 1984,'' he said. ''But we are worried we are going to keep seeing cases for the next 40 years if people keep getting exposed.''
''It's a horrible disease but it's completely preventable''.
The study, published on Monday in the Medical Journal of Australia, found one third of people exposed had cut asbestos building materials, one in four had drilled them, and one in 10 had sanded them. More than half said they never or only sometimes wore protection such as face masks.
Asbestos Diseases Research Institute director Nico van Zandwijk said the study was a warning to people considering a renovation.
''The fact that more than 60 per cent of people said they were exposed - and that's just the people who could recall they were exposed - means that the level of awareness about the dangers of asbestos is insufficient,'' he said. ''People need to think before they cut.''
Professor van Zandwijk said Australia had been the world's highest per-capita user of asbestos.
It's a horrible disease but it's completely preventable.
''Asbestos building materials were tremendously popular in the previous century, particularly in the post-war period,'' he said. ''It was cheap and it was used everywhere.''