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Asbestos disease death toll in Australia 'higher than Covid-19'

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DANGER: Products containing asbestos remain in a third of Australian homes built or renovated before 1987, including fibro, brick, weatherboard, clad homes and apartments.

DANGER: Products containing asbestos remain in a third of Australian homes built or renovated before 1987, including fibro, brick, weatherboard, clad homes and apartments.

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Asbestos Awareness Month urges home DIY-ers in particular to exercise extreme care.

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It's an alarming figure. In 2020, more than 4000 Australians will die from asbestos-related diseases caused from exposure to asbestos fibres either in the home or in the workplace.

That is 3000 more deaths compared to the number of Australians who will have died from Covid-19 in the first year of the pandemic.

It's a fact that experts in the field want to bring front and centre during Asbestos Awareness Month (until November 31), stressing that as with Covid-19, the most effective means of preventing deaths is to prevent exposure - inhalation of deadly asbestos fibres.

Asbestos-related diseases include pleural disease, asbestosis, lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma, which can develop 20-50 years after asbestos fibres are inhaled. There is no cure for mesothelioma and the survival time following diagnosis can be as little as 10-12 months.

According to the Australian Mesothelioma Registry, Australia has one of the highest measured incidences of mesothelioma in the world.

It said a steady increase in cases has been recorded over the past 40 years, with an average of two Australians diagnosed every day in the past year alone.

Asbestos Diseases Research Institute director Ken Takahashi said despite the predicted rise in deaths due to homeowners and tradespeople inhaling asbestos fibres during renovations or the maintenance of older properties, Australians remain complacent about the dire consequences of disturbing asbestos-containing materials (ACM).

"Australians must take the warnings about asbestos seriously to protect themselves and their families from avoidable exposure to fibres that can kill," Professor Takahashi said, adding that diagnosis of asbestos-related diseases can take years.

MESSAGE TO TRADIES: A video by campaign ambassador and actor John Jarratt, who lost one of his best mates, Harold Hopkins, to mesothelioma

Australia is among the highest consumers of asbestos in the world. Products containing asbestos remain in a third of Australian homes built or renovated before 1987, including fibro, brick, weatherboard, clad homes and apartments.

It can also be found in many commercial and non-residential structures including buildings, fences and farm sheds.

Given this, the institute said it will be many years, if ever, before all remaining ACM is completely removed from properties.

If undisturbed, well maintained, and in a stable, sealed condition, asbestos is unlikely to pose health risks, it said.,

But the risk of inhaling fibres can occur during maintenance, removal, refurbishment or demolition of ACM when damaged, broken, cut, drilled, sawn, sanded, scraped, waterblasted or if disturbed when using tools - particularly power tools, which release a high concentration of fibres.

National Asbestos Awareness Month ambassador Cherie Barber, founder of Renovating for Profit, said it was vital that "renovators, DIY-ers, tradies, property managers, demolition and construction workers make it their business to learn how to manage asbestos safely by visiting asbestosawareness.com.au".

Cherie, who lost her grandfather to an asbestos-related disease, said asbestos materials were used everywhere in homes and in commercial and non-residential structures.

These include under floor coverings, such as:

  • In carpets, linoleum and vinyl tiles
  • Behind wall and floor tiles
  • In cement floors, internal and external walls, ceilings and ceiling space (insulation), eaves, garages and roofs;
  • Around hot water pipes, fences, home extensions, garages, outdoor toilets, backyard and farm structures, water tanks, chook sheds and even dog kennels.

"It's important to follow the first rule of asbestos management - If you think a product might contain asbestos, play it safe and go slow; treat it as if it is asbestos and take all the necessary precautions including getting the experts in," Cherie said.

"Occupational hygienists or licensed asbestos assessors can inspect your property and if you need to remove asbestos, please only use licensed asbestos removalists, because it's not worth the risk!"

During Asbestos Awareness Month: Australians are encouraged to host a Blue Lamington Drive morning or afternoon tea at home or at work to help raise awareness of the dangers of asbestos and help raise funds to support the vital medical research conducted by the ADRI. Visit www.bluelamington.com

For detailed information about asbestos and how to avoid it, visit asbestosawareness.com.au

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