Home owners who plan to do their own renovating or rebuilding have been warned not to overlook the widespread danger of asbestos contamination in Australian homes.
Asbestos, a fire resistant material used in many products for insulation, was widely used in the building industry in Australia until the 1980s. It has been banned here since 2003, following a number of deaths from mesothelioma, an incurable lung cancer caused by inhaling asbestos fibres.
The problem was largely brought to public attention by campaigner Bernie Banton, who died of mesothelioma ten years ago. His widow Karen formed the not-for-profit Bernie Banton Foundation to raise awareness of asbestos risks. According to the Foundation, Australia has the second highest rate of asbestos-related deaths in the world, and estimates by 2030 asbestos will have killed 60,000 Australians.
Any home built before 1987 should be considered at risk, but many Australians seem to think the problem belong in the past. Actor John Jarratt, launching Asbestos Awareness month in November, says one in three homes contain asbestos “in some form or another”. Every 13 hours another 13 families learn that a loved one has mesothelioma, and someone dies of it every 14 hours.
The Government established the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency in 2013 to ensure asbestos issues receive the attention and focus needed to drive change. In its latest annual report, the Agency found 1,770 Australians reported suspected asbestos exposure in the last year, an increase of 13% on the previous year.
Although asbestos products are no longer sold in Australia, there is still a danger from products imported illegally into the country. A recent Senate Committee Inquiry report made 26 recommendations to the Government, including prioritising prosecutions, increasing penalties and deterrents, and tougher requirements when importing high risk products.
However, some Coalition Senators on the Committee released a dissenting report, rejecting the recommendations. CFMEU National Construction Secretary Dave Noonan says they have “put building industry profits and global free trade interests ahead of the safety of building workers”.
Asbestos in the home is usually only dangerous if it is disturbed, as in rebuilding or renovating. It should only be removed by fully qualified professionals who wear the correct protective clothing.
Useful information and advice can be found at www.asbestoswise.com.au/information-and-resources/asbestos-in-the-home.