LIVES are being put in danger because homes are not being tested for asbestos before renovations begin, industry sources have warned.
The Asbestos Contractors Group says people face serious disease, and even death, because there are no laws making it mandatory for homeowners to conduct a hazardous materials audit before they start work.
The group says the absence of auditing heightens the risk of previously unknown quantities of asbestos being disturbed.
"Unfortunately, tradespeople and, quite often, domestic homeowners are being exposed to asbestos when doing their own renovations, simply because they don't know it's there or what it looks like," group spokesman Pat Preston said.
"There's no legislation like there is in the general workplaces for an asbestos audit to be carried out."
Ringwood asbestos removalist A Plus Building Solutions says residents are at risk of finding asbestos in their backyard.
A Plus director Kamil Zajac says the company's 24-hour emergency line gets numerous calls. "A lot of them are initiated by tradies or homeowners who give us a call and say, 'My builder's just stopped work because he thinks he's found asbestos. What do I do?"'
Before the 1980s, materials containing asbestos were common in the building industry.
The Weekly asked Eastern Health how many asbestos-related illnesses had been treated at Maroondah Hospital in the past two years but was told no specific data regarding asbestos was available.
Eastern Health's director of respiratory medicine Professor Francis Thien says asbestos-related illness can range from benign pleural plaques to asbestosis (lung fibrosis) to mesothelioma (cancer).
A Safe Work Australia report found that 660 cases of mesothelioma were diagnosed in Australia in 2007.
In the same year, 551 people died of asbestos-related diseases.
In 2010-11, WorkSafe was notified of 7275 jobs carried out by asbestos removalists across the state, including work done at domestic properties and workplaces.
A Yarra Ranges based asbestos removalist, who did not want to be named, said a lot of people know they should test their site - especially on properties older than 1982 - but the cost turns them off.
He said he was once called out to a school in Ringwood because someone had dumped asbestos next to the campus.
"It was wrapped in plastic - so they knew it was something dangerous, but they didn't seem to care."