Asbestos is still present in millions of Australian homes. If a home was built or renovated before 1990, there is a good chance it has some asbestos in it. Exposure to asbestos causes lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis. Asbestos is both an occupational and non-occupational lung carcinogen. Asbestos is a group of six minerals which occur naturally as serpentine and amphibole asbestos and take the form of curly thin fibres or straight, jagged shape fibres respectively. If you think you’ve been exposed to asbestos in Australia, the Australian Government created the National Asbestos Exposure Register (NAER) to record information for members of the community who may have been exposed to asbestos, for their future reference. To register your or someone else’s potential asbestos exposure with the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency’s database you can use this link. All personal information collected is protected and handled in accordance with the Privacy Act 1998.
The types of asbestos prohibited for import or export in Australia include:
- actinolite asbestos
- grunerite (or amosite) asbestos (brown)
- anthophyllite asbestos
- chrysotile asbestos (white)
- crocidolite asbestos (blue)
- tremolite asbestos
- a mixture that contains one or more of the minerals referred to above.
In this article, what you need to know about asbestos in Australia is highlighted through answering three questions:
- What are the asbestos-related statistics in Australia?
- Is there an asbestos national strategic plan in Australia?
- What are the consequences of non-compliance in Australia?
What are the asbestos-related statistics in Australia?
Evidence suggests that during the COVID-19 pandemic there has been a boom in DIY home improvements giving rise to concerns of increased asbestos exposure risk. An estimated 4000 Australians die annually from asbestos-related disease. This is more than twice the annual road toll. Approximately 700 people die annually from the aggressive cancer mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos. Asbestos was used in over 3000 products prior to 1990, a great many of these were in residential construction and fit out. Asbestos was completely banned in Australia in 2003. Over 6000 tonnes of asbestos are illegally dumped per year. The World Health Organization says that there is no known safe minimum level of exposure, and this is escalated by asbestos fibres being invisible to the naked eye. Asbestos can be easily disturbed when doing renovations, home improvements and maintenance and research shows that 17% of DIYers have encountered asbestos, but only 8.5% have sought any kind of professional help to deal with it and a further 5% have admitted to disposing of the asbestos improperly. Asbestos fibres are inhalable once they become airborne hence it is important to avoid disturbing products that may contain asbestos fibres. Many Australians know what asbestos is, but a few fully understand the health risks, where it can be found and how to protect themselves from exposure if they find it.
Is there an asbestos national strategic plan in Australia?
Yes, there is an asbestos national strategic plan in Australia it was implemented in 2014. The National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Awareness and Management (NSP) aims to eliminate asbestos related diseases in Australia by preventing exposure to asbestos fibres. This entails dealing with the harmful legacy of asbestos in homes, workplaces and the environment. The role out of NSP has been done in two phases. Phase one went from 2014-2018 and phase two is currently in motion, from 2019-2023. The latter plan builds on the previous plan’s progress and complements and enhances existing asbestos policies, plans and actions at all levels of government. There are 4 national priorities and strategic actions points of the NSP 2019-2023 and these are:
- Improve asbestos awareness to influence behavioural change.
- Identification and effective legacy management.
- Safe prioritised removal and effective waste management.
- International collaboration and leadership.
Signatories that include government agencies, local governments, regulators and non-government groups will align their jurisdictional and local action plans as much as possible with the strategic actions under the four national priorities. The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) will support them by encouraging, coordinating, and monitoring their efforts, as well as reporting on their successes and challenges. ASEA will also liase with all levels of government for a midpoint review of the NSP. So, what are the consequences of non-compliance?
What are the consequences of non-compliance in Australia?
Unfortunately, despite being banned in 2003, asbestos exposure is still a risk for Australians. Australia has one of the highest incidence of mesothelioma in the world and deaths from mesothelioma continue to rise because of past and ongoing exposure. Symptoms typically appear 20 – 40 years after a person has been exposed. Even in Australia, where universal health care exists, survival from mesothelioma is lower than for other cancers, with the average Australian living only 11 months after diagnosis. The consequences of non-compliance are continuation of a harmful legacy of asbestos in homes, workplaces and the environment. This is evident in the increasing proportion of mesothelioma cases relating to non-occupational exposures which is a serious health problem in Australia. These cases are generally associated with relatively low doses of asbestos exposure and include some individuals who will be unaware that they have been exposed to asbestos. Given below are some of the stories that have made headlines over complacency and negligence in asbestos disposal in Australia:
- Disgraceful disregard for safety in asbestos work safety fine
- Asbestos waste delivery results in conviction and over $200,000 in penalties
- NSW property developer charged just $563 after allegedly dumping tonnes of asbestos-contaminated waste
Global Road Technology (GRT) wants to play its part in your efforts to deal with outdoor asbestos dust at its source. In line with the NSP 2019-2023 priorities GRT offers demolition and recovery site asbestos dust control solutions. Our two products, GRT Rubble-Loc and GRT: Activate is your complete demolition and recovery site wet dust control solution. It is designed for application through standard spraying equipment offering a simple to use and safe for workers and environment product that can be diluted with water. When buildings and other structures are demolished hazardous substances such as asbestos, which causes mesothelioma can become airborne. The use of GRT Rubble-Loc can bind asbestos and other harmful dusts at the source on sites such as demolition sites, material stockpiles and natural disaster sites both emergency and recovery phase providing contractors, regulators and surrounding residents peace of mind that asbestos dust fibres are locked down on site. For dynamic tasks, GRT: Activate can be dosed into the water spayed or fogged for dust control to make it actually work! GRT Rubble-Loc is a cost-effective dust and wind erosion control technology designed for use on dynamic sites. GRT’s solutions provides contractors, regulators and surrounding residents peace of mind that dust and potential contaminants can be locked down onsite. The key benefits are in low cost, flexibility in quantities and application, simplicity in use of existing spraying systems, environmentally safe and solving wind and rain erosion keeping hazardous materials locked on site.
We reiterate, no amount of asbestos exposure is safe, asbestos accumulates in the body with every exposure, and there is no known way to reverse the damage it causes. No threshold level of asbestos exposure has been established below which all individuals would be free from cancer risk. The greater the exposure, the greater the risk of developing any asbestos-related diseases, therefore all exposures should be eliminated at its source. Are you dealing with asbestos dust at its source? You can find an exhaustive list of goods that might contain asbestos here.
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Asbestos Awareness Week: November 23 – 29, 2020. Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency.
Australian Government. 2021. Coordinating Australia’s national action for asbestos safety and eradication. Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency.
Australian Border Force. 2021. Importing goods containing asbestos into Australia is unlawful.
Odgerel, C.O. 2017. Estimation of the global burden of mesothelioma deaths from incomplete national mortality data. Occup Environ Med. 74. 851-858.
Prüss-Ustun, A et al. 2011. Knowns and unknowns on burden of disease due to chemicals: a systematic review. Environmental Health. 109. 1-15.
Taylor, A.N. 2009. Asbestos, lung cancer and mesothelioma in the British Journal of Industrial Medicine. Occup. Environ. Med. 66. 7. 426-429.