Most homeowners are aware that asbestos can be found in walls and insulation in the roof, but did you know the deadly mineral can be found in variety of other places like underneath flooring, in water pipes or even in some paints?Read More
In modern Australia asbestos is a word synonymous with danger and disease, but it hasn’t always been this way. There was a time when asbestos was hailed as a miracle material, prized for its incredible heat resistant properties and seen as an important resource.
In this latest instalment we will be looking at the town of Asbestos, in the Canadian province of Quebec
Although it might seem hard to believe, this Canadian town isn’t the only place to take its name from asbestos. In a previous blog post we took a look at Asbest, the Russian word for asbestos and the Russian city home to the world’s biggest functioning open pit asbestos mine.
Previously, this 'honour' - if you can call having the world's largest asbestos mine an honour - belonged to Asbestos' Jeffery mine.
Opened in 1870, the Jeffery Mine - known to locals simply as 'the hole' - gave the town of Asbestos its name and employed a majority of its residents. As is often the case with settlements built around asbestos mines, as the mine flourished so did the town. During this asbestos boom Quebec provided as much as half the entire world's supply of asbestos.
Predictably, the price and demand for asbestos plummeted in the 1980s as the negative health impacts of asbestos exposure became harder and harder to ignore. This lead to the Jeffery mine finally closing its doors in 2011, 8 years after Australia banned asbestos completely.
At the time of the mine's closure the town was home to 7,096 people, 2000 of which worked at the Jeffery mine.
So where is the town of Asbestos now, you ask? Well, in 2012 the town was given a $50 million diversification fund from the Parti Quebecois government, replacing a promise of a $58 million loan to renovate and reopen the mine from the previous government.
Using this grant Asbestos has managed to attract a pharmaceutical company, a duck hatchery and meat processing plant, a cheese factory and a microbrewery. This grant has also helped the town 're-brand' by demolishing all unused mining buildings.
In a somewhat ironic twist, earlier this year it was revealed that Asbestos may be able to strike it rich from asbestos yet again. As it turns out, the tailings left from mining asbestos are rich in magnesium - a useful mineral that can be turned into a metal.
While the town of Asbestos may be changing, one thing that isn't is the name. Despite several attempts to change it, it seems for now anyway, that the town is still stuck with its somewhat unfortunate name.
Late last week a hazmat team was called to remove four tonnes of waste dumped in a driveway in suburban Sydney.
Just over four tonnes of material were dumped in the driveway of the Oatlands home when a mysterious truck pulled up and unloaded the material late on Saturday night. The bags spilt open as they hit the ground exposing the property’s occupants to the potentially deadly contents.
The dumped material is believed to contain asbestos and is currently being tested.
This aforementioned incident is just one of many asbestos dumping events that take place in Sydney, such as the tonnes of asbestos dumped on a street in Sydney’s Chester Hill late last year or the various illegal asbestos dumps committed by Dib Hana.
Why is this happening? Well, one potential answer has to do with the high price of legally and safely disposing of asbestos.
Here at Ausbestos we accept that this is just the cost of doing business in the asbestos removal industry but unfortunately some dodgy individuals try and avoid this cost by illegally disposing of asbestos containing products and asbestos contaminated soil. In the process they put themselves and the community at risk.
In the state of NSW hefty fines apply for the unlawful disposal of asbestos, which can range as much as a $7,500 on the spot fine for individuals and a $15,000 on the spot fine for corporations.
If you come across illegally dumped asbestos in your community or witness illegal asbestos dumping then you should notify the NSW Environmental Protection Agency by calling 131 555. Alternatively, if the dumped asbestos is of immediate harm to human health then you should call 000 and to report it immediately.
A New Jersey court has ordered pharmaceutical and manufacturing giant Johnson & Johnson to pay $37 million in compensatory damages and a further $80 million in punitive damages, to plaintiff Stephen Lanzo III and his wife.
Mr Lanzo claims he developed mesothelioma, a disease caused by inhaled asbestos fibres reaching the lung’s pleural coverings, from using Johnson & Johnson products he used between 1972 to 2003.
The products he says are responsible - Johnson & Johnson’s Shower to Shower and Johnson & Johnson's Baby Powder - both contain talc.
Talc is a naturally occurring grey mineral made of hydrated magnesium silicate that generally forms near or beside asbestos deposits. It is a common ingredient in personal care products like baby powder and make-up and this Johnson & Johnson case is not the first time asbestos has been found in talc used in consumer grade products.
Predictably, Johnson & Johnson have denied claims that their talc based products contain any asbestos fibres, with their lawyer even going as far as to suggest that Mr Lanzo could have been exposed to asbestos through the pipes in his childhood home. However, the jury did not agree with this hypothesis and ruled to award the plaintiff with damages after just one day of the trial.
If Johnson & Johnson’s denial tactics sound oddly familiar, that's because they, unfortunately, are. As we saw in the case of fashion accessory chain Claire’s, which we previously covered, it is common for companies accused of selling products contaminated with asbestos fibres to fiercely deny such claims, even in the face of compelling evidence.
Fortunately, it seems these denial tactics employed by companies like Johnson & Johnson and Claire’s aren’t working long term, with Johnson & Johnson currently facing over 6,600 more lawsuits related to its talc based products.
In Australia, asbestos has been banned since 2003; however, it is a different story over in the United States, where the Johnson & Johnson case took place.
Troublingly, there are currently no federal regulations in the US that requiring that talc used in consumer grade products, such as baby powder or make-up, is asbestos free and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) can only take action if there is sound evidence that shows that such products are harmful.
Although, as Australia’s legacy problems with asbestos show, banning asbestos may not be a catch-all solution, it is an essential starting point to an asbestos free future.
Two months ago we shared the news that lab tests conducted by the Scientific Analytical Institute had found traces of deadly asbestos in 17 make-up products sold by fashion accessory chain Claire’s.
After pulling nine of its make-up products, Claire’s had private lab testing done that showed the products were asbestos free. The fashion accessory chain then issued statements denying claims that their products ever contained asbestos; however, a new wave of lab reports has found this claim to be false.
The tests, carried out on behalf of consumer interest group US.PIRG, found an additional three makeup products sold at Claire’s stores tested positive for deadly asbestos fibres.
Claire’s has denied these claims made by US.PIRG, citing its previous lab results and criticising the research methods undertaken by US.PIRG.
The outlook is equally grim for Claire’s stores in the UK, where the chain has been ordered to destroy two of its make-up products: the highly popular eye shadow and face blusher kits.
This order from the UK government comes after Dutch authorities found asbestos in the two Claire’s products. These findings were then confirmed by officials in Brussels which lead to a Europe-wide alert being placed on the products.
Much like how it played out in the US, Claire’s is predictably claiming that their products are safe and asbestos free, as well as refusing to release how long the asbestos contaminated products were sold for.
The presence of asbestos in Claire’s make-up is particularly troubling for two reasons:
- Since it is warn on the face there is a very high change of asbestos fibres being inhaled through the nose or mouth.
- Claire’s make-up is marketed to and predominately warn by teenage girls.
The asbestos fibres were believed to be introduced to the make-up through talc, a common make-up ingredient that is used to absorb moisture and give the product a smooth feel on the skin.
Up until the 1980’s asbestos was widely used as a building material in dwellings all across Australia, prized for its insulative and heat resistant properties.
As a result, asbestos can be found in most older homes in locations such as splashbacks, fire places, walls, insulation, piping and underneath tiles. However, one place you might not expect to find asbestos is in the family car.
That's right, before asbestos was banned in Australia in 2003 it was not uncommon to find it in car parts such as brakes, clutches, gaskets and hood liners.
Although the use of asbestos in housing products slowed down well before the 2003 ban came into affect, asbestos was still used in car parts into the early 2000’s.
Today, asbestos is usually only found in cars built before the ban (such as vintage and classic cars), with the notable exception of vehicles and parts imported from countries where asbestos is still legal.
Sure, it has been illegal to use asbestos in car parts for close to 15 years here in Australia, but unfortunately that hasn't stopped mechanics from being at risk of asbestos related diseases.
According to law firm Slater and Gordon, the number of mechanics requesting legal action for asbestos exposure has increased by 200% in the last two years.
Asbestos exposure is associated with a variety of serious health conditions including mesothelioma, pleural disease, asbestosis and lung cancer. Often it can be difficult to gauge the damage of asbestos exposure as all these aforementioned diseases can take up to four decades to show any symptoms. For this reason we are only now seeing the impact of this latest wave of exposure.
As Australia continues to grapple with high rates of mesothelioma and ongoing issues with asbestos, it is clearer than ever that the asbestos ban is not enough. We must remain vigilant and committed to removing asbestos from our communities and ensure we do not become desensitised to the serious health risks asbestos exposure can lead to.
There is a long road ahead for the residents of the NSW town of Tathra. On Sunday the 18th of March a bushfire swept through the town damaging close to 70 homes and leaving destruction in its wake.
Making matters worse is all the asbestos from the burnt and damaged homes that has become airborne after the fire.
The fire was initially on track to miss the town by 100 meters before a strong gust of wind put it on a collision course with the Surfside community, propelling the fire through the centre of town. Fortunately, residents were able to be evacuated in time and to date there have been no deaths or significant injuries.
Although the fire may have passed, the danger has not, with countless damaged homes now contaminated with asbestos as well as airborne asbestos fibres. This asbestos contamination along with structurally damaged buildings has prevented the displaced residents of Tathra - many of whom are staying in the Bega community centre - from returning home.
Rural fire service crews have taped off damaged housing believed to be contaminated with asbestos and are awaiting samples to be lab tested for confirmation.
The clean-up and returning of asbestos contaminated properties to their owners is expected to be handled on a case by case basis with landholders liaising with authorities.
As of last Thursday some residents have been allowed to return to the town to survey the damage caused by the fire; however, no one will be allowed to return permanently until the town is deemed safe by authorities.
The tragedy that has taken place in Tathra is a timely reminder of the constant risk posed by asbestos and the importance of having it removed from our homes and communities. We sincerely hope what has happened at Tathra will act as a wake up call and fuel renewed efforts to say good bye to asbestos for good. Although Bushfires might be an unavoidable part of lviing in Australia, asbestos contimaination doesn't have to be.
Every November the National Asbestos Awareness Month Campaign runs, seeking to inform the public of the dangers of removing or disturbing asbestos in the home.
Even though the dangerous substance has been banned in Australia since 2003, we still have one of the highest rates of asbestos related diseases in the world, with home renovators most at risk. The aim of the Asbestos Awareness Campaign is to combat this high rate of asbestos related diseases by educating the public.
Here at Ausbestos we are big supporters of the important work the National Asbestos Awareness Month Campaigns performs, and do what we can to support their important mission all year round.
Recently the campaign has released brand new asbestos education materials in the form of a series of asbestos fact sheets for tradies and an in depth asbestos management guide for commercial and non-residential properties.
Fact sheets include:
• Residential Asbestos Checklist For Tradies – Instruction Guide
• Information for Bricklayers
• Information for Builders
• Information for Building Construction & Civil Construction Workers
• Information for Building Maintenance Workers
• Information for Carpenters, Cabinet Makers & Joiners
• Information for Demolition Workers
• Information for Electricians
• Information for External Cladding Installers
• Gas Fitters
• Heating or Air Conditioning Installers & Maintenance Workers
For more information about asbestos awareness month or to check out their comprehensive range of fact sheets, click here.
Asbestos is a silent menace lurking in many Australian homes. If your house was built or renovated between 1920 and 1990 there is a good chance it contains asbestos in one form or another. Sometimes hidden, sometimes in plain site, asbestos products may look harmless but if disturbed they release deadly fibres that can lead to serious health problems such as mesothelioma, lung cancers, cancer of the larynx and even ovarian cancer.
Asbestos is at the greatest risk of being disturbed during renovation or demolition and if your are considering undertaking such works then it is important asbestos is removed and disposed of by trained professionals.
Sure, I understand the dangers asbestos poses but how much will it cost to get it out of my house?
This is where things get a little bit complicated. A variety of factors, such as the type of asbestos present, the amount of asbestos present and the location of the asbestos present all affect the amount of time taken, and therefore the cost, of removing asbestos.
Asbestos can be found in a variety of locations around the home, such as underneath vinyl or linoleum flooring, in fibre cement products and in insulation products - just to name a few. In some cases soil may be also be contaminated with asbestos, usually in the form of chunks of asbestos sheeting.
As a general rule, asbestos products come in two forms: non- friable and friable (commonly known as 'Mr. Fluffy'). Non-friable asbestos is cheaper to remove as the dangerous asbestos fibres are incased - in cement or other material- and therefore less likely to become airborne. This in turn means less safety precautions and time are required to safely remove non-friable asbestos products.
However, removing non-friable asbestos is still time consuming and tedious, as each piece of product containing the dangerous fibres must be removed individually by hand, wrapped in plastic film and placed in a dumpster.
Some non-friable asbestos products like fibro sheeting can be particularly time-consuming to remove, especially if it is covered by a brick facade.
The final factor to consider is the cost of legal disposal of asbestos, which costs roughly $330 per tonne to dispose of. Obviously this means the more asbestos is present in your house, the more it will cost to safety and legally dispose of it.
As we've previously discussed on this blog, before the health risks of exposure to asbestos were known (and in many cases even after), the mineral was widely used in everything from building materials to roof insulation to break pads to sand pit filler... and now apparently, even make-up.
A lab in North Carolina, USA, recently found trace amounts of tremolite asbestos in a Claire’s (A chain of accessory stores) make-up product aimed at young girls. Although never used commercially, tremolite asbestos is often found in talc, a key component in many make-up products.
The tremolite was discovered when a local mother decided to send a sample of her daughter’s make-up into a local lab to see what was in it. What was meant to be a fun indulgence of curiosity took a dark turn when the results showed asbestos was present in the make-up.
Claire's initially pulled nine of its cosmetic products as a precautionary measure; however, after conducting its own testing with two different labs, Claire’s has released a statement refuting the claim their make-up products ever contained traces of the deadly mineral.
The statement issued by Claire’s said “We are pleased to report that test results received to date from two certified independent labs confirm that the products in question are asbestos free, completely safe and meet all government requirements”
A spokesman for Claire’s also added “Any report that suggests that the products are not safe is totally false”.
Despite Claire’s claims, the lab that conducted the initial testing that found the asbestos is standing by their results, asserting that asbestos was found in a variety of Claire’s make-up products and questioning the validity of the tests conducted by Claire's.
This isn’t the first time asbestos has been allegedly found in make-up. Mid last year American chain store, Justice, stopped selling its ‘Shine Shimmer Powder’ after an investigation revealed it contained asbestos.
Given that asbestos can lead to serious health problems, the presence of the mineral in make-up products is particularly concerning. Here is hoping this latest incident is the last time the mineral is found in cosmetics products.
Although the use, manufacture and importing of asbestos and asbestos based products has been banned in Australia since 2003, our nation's past enthusiasm for the dangerous mineral continues to haunt us to this day. The repercussions of Australia's previous wide-ranging and liberal use of asbestos can be felt both in our high rates of mesothelioma and our legacy of buildings containing the deadly mineral.
Asbestos can still be found lurking in the family home (mainly those built or renovated before 1980), in iconic buildings such as the Sydney Opera House, and most troublingly, in Australia's public schools.
A recent audit has found that a majority of Australia's schools contain asbestos based products. In Victoria for example, out of the 1,712 schools inspected, only 39 were found to be free of the dangerous mineral.
In New South Wales it was a similar story; asbestos was present in hundreds of schools in Northern NSW, mainly in the form of roof tiles, roof sheeting and external window panels.
These findings are concerning as all forms of asbestos pose a serious risk to human health. Inhaling the substance is linked to cancers such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, cancer of the larynx and even ovarian cancer.
Obviously, individuals of any age are vulnerable to the side-effects of asbestos exposure; however, children are particularly at risk for a couple of different reasons:
- Children breathe in more rapidly than adults as their lungs are still developing. This means they are more likely to breathe in any deadly asbestos fibres that are present in the air.
- Due to the delayed onset of most cancers caused by asbestos - particularly mesothelioma which can take 30 years for symptoms to develop - asbestos poses a greater risk to a child's life expectancy than to an adult's. Children are estimated to be 3.5 times more likely to develop mesothelioma than adults.
- Children are at a higher likelihood of asbestos exposure because of their active play habits that could disturb or damage asbestos containing products.
In order to reduce the likelihood of students and staff being exposed to asbestos, all Australian state governments require schools containing asbestos to have an asbestos management plan in place. This plan must be in line with the 2011 Federal Work, Health and Safety Act and involves any area found to be contaminated with asbestos being fenced off.
In response to the high amount of schools containing asbestos, the Victorian government has pledged $155 million towards removing asbestos from its state schools with the ambitious goal of making all state schools asbestos-free by 2020. This involves both the removal of asbestos where possible and the demolition of buildings too contaminated with asbestos to simply have the substance removed.
The Victorian government's plan commenced in the first half of 2016 and prioritised 'high risk' buildings, which have all since been removed.
Here's hoping the rest of Australia's state governments follow suit soon so we can rid all our schools of this dangerous materal.
Police are on the hunt for the culprit responsible for dumping 8 tonnes of asbestos contaminated materials on a suburban street in Chester Hill.
Residents of the Western Sydney suburb woke up Monday morning to find debris scattered all over the road after being illegally dumped at 1am that morning. The road was soon taped off by police as fire crews in hazmat gear began to sift through and clean up the dumped material, which consisted mostly of asbestos contaminated soil.
Understandably the residents of the affected street were not happy about the illegal dumping, with one commentator going as far as calling the individuals responsible for dumping the material ‘potential murders’.
Sure, the phrasing might be a tad dramatic, but the links between asbestos and fatal health conditions like mesothelioma are well established, meaning that the dumped materials pose a serious health risk to the affected street’s residents.
Although it may not make the headlines, asbestos contaminated soil is sometimes found when undertaking demolition, excavation or construction works.
Most home owners are completely unaware that there could be unwanted asbestos buried underneath their house foundations or below their backyard. This is usually due to illegal and improper disposal of asbestos from past demolition, renovation or building works.
Regardless of how it got there, the result is the same: broken pieces of asbestos sheeting scattered throughout the soil. These pieces of asbestos sheeting are easily identified by the waffle-shaped pattern on their underside.
If asbestos contaminated soil is found on your property there are two main courses of action that can be taken:
- All the contaminated soil can be excavated and disposed off as asbestos contaminated waste. Although straightforward, this solution means that all the soil must be disposed of as asbestos waste, costing roughly $330 to dispose of per tonne.
- If the contamination is mainly surface level, an asbestos removal crew can be brought in to hand-pick the pieces of asbestos from the soil. Although tedious, this ensures less asbestos waste and therefore a lower disposal fee.
Both of these options require a trained asbestos removal crew and supervisor to undertake and supervise the asbestos removal works as well as a third party certifier to approve that the previously contaminated area is now free of asbestos.
Although alarming, by acting quickly and soliciting a professional asbestos removal company, asbestos contaminated soil can be throughly and safety removed.
November saw the release of the National Asbestos profile (NAP), a report that collates a huge range of information and research to reflect the impact of asbestos in Australia. The profile includes a broad range of information on existing regulation controlling asbestos, rates of asbestos related diseases in Australia as well as our country's past relationship with this dangerous mineral.
Although certainly a dense read, the profile provides an in depth view on our nation's current relationship with asbestos and it is definitely recommended reading for anyone working in the asbestos removal industry.
But if you don't have a spare hour to read it (yep, it's a long slog) then fear not, we have read it so you don't have to! Below we have summarised some of the profile's key insights:
- Hands down, the standout messages of the report was the ongoing harmful effects of Australia's past asbestos use. Although the Australia government instituted a total ban on asbestos in 2003, we still have one of the highest rates of mesothelioma in the world. If nothing else, the Australian experience illustrates that asbestos use can still haunt a nation long after the substance has been banned.
- As the 2003 asbestos ban was not retroactive, many asbestos containing products still exist in the community. Between 2008 and 2014 approximately 400,000 tonnes of asbestos were disposed of. That's 20kg for each person in Australia! As of 2016 an estimated 44% of consumed asbestos remained and we are on track to reduced it to 10% by 2055.
- Overall Australia has good multilevel asbestos management in place, spanning local, state/ territory and federal government. The Australian Government is an international leader in advocating a worldwide ban on asbestos and has pushed for chrysotile asbestos to be included in Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention.
- As previously mentioned, Australia has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma and since 2011 an average of 701 people have been diagnosed with the deadly condition each year. It is predicted that by 2021, 19,400 new cases of mesothelioma will have been diagnosed
- Approximately one in five renovations requires asbestos to be removed. Although some of these asbestos removal jobs are carried out by trained professionals, one third of home renovators remove the asbestos themselves. This puts Australia at risk of a 'third wave' of asbestos exposure.
- A small number of goods containing asbestos continue to be imported into Australia every year. This is mainly due to some international certifications of 'asbestos free' being unreliable.
Well, there you have it! A brief overview of the relationship between Australia and asbestos in 2017.
Sure, we still have some significant hurdles to overcome, but it looks like a bright, asbestos-free future is in store for our nation as long as we treat asbestos with the caution it deserves.
If you are feeling ambitious you can read the full report here.
Living in Australia, it is all too easy to assume that asbestos is feared and strictly regulated all around the world. Unfortunately, this is far from the reality and countries like China, Cuba and India still rely heavily on asbestos based products for automotive parts, building materials and insulation. Even the US continues to import large amounts of asbestos, importing 705 metric tons in 2016, almost twice the amount imported in 2015.
So, where is all this asbestos coming from?
Although it isn’t the only country that still mines the dangerous mineral, Russia is by far the biggest miner and exporter of Asbestos, supplying roughly 60 to 75 percent of the world’s asbestos.
In Russia, the deadly health risks associated with asbestos are covered up and it is even believed that the Russian mafia is behind a powerful pro-asbestos lobby. In short, the Russian love affair with asbestos is still very much in full swing, and nothing showcases this quite as well as the Russian mining town of Asbest.
Like the name suggests, Asbest (which takes its name from the Russian word for asbestos), exists for the sole purpose of mining asbestos. The town is home of the Uralasbest mine - the world’s biggest functioning open-pit asbestos mine which is almost half the size of Manhattan! During its 100 years of operation the mine has shipped well over 384 million tonnes of asbestos all around the world.
To say the town of Asbest embraces asbestos would be somewhat of an understatement. Residents have an almost religious reverence for the stuff, seeing it as the town’s protector. Asbestos is referenced in folklore (such as stories about a girl with fibrous hair made from the mineral), billboards in town proudly proclaim ‘ asbestos is our future’, and it is not uncommon for newly weds to have their photo taken overlooking the huge Uralasbest mine .
Where Australians see the use of asbestos as a terrible mistake of the past, the Russians of Asbest view it as a sort of guiding light for the future.
Much like the now closed Australian town of Wittenoom, Asbest would cease to exist without the asbestos mining industry, of the 70,000 people who live there, 49,000 of them are directly or indirectly reliant on the Uralasbest mine for income.
To make matters worse, the company that owns the mine also owns a significant amount of the town’s infrastructure. This means that for most of the town’s residents speaking out against the mine or acknowledging the health risks posed by asbestos isn’t really an option.
As the global demand for asbestos gradually decreases, the future of Asbest looks more and more uncertain. Regardless of what the billboards in the town might say, the wide scale use of Asbestos has no place in the modern world.
When Hurricane Matthew swept through Cuba’s Guantanamo province late last year, stories about how Cuban companies were making and distributing building materials to help the victims quickly made it into the nation’s news cycle.
Whenever the country is ravaged by a hurricane, one of the most repeatedly broadcast images on Cuban television is that of factories churning out asbestos-cement roofing sheets. Largely an exercise in morale boosting, these images of industrious factory workers working hard to manufacture roofing materials for those in need warms the heart of the nation.
But there’s a slight problem…
As is well known in most of the developed world, asbestos causes a wide variety of health problems if inhaled as it doesn’t dissolve or break down. This is because asbestos particles do not evaporate into air and don’t dissolve in water, meaning they linger around for a long time and are easily carried by wind or water. Drinking water can contain asbestos, especially if water pipes are made out of fibre cement.
The link between exposure to asbestos and diseases such as lung cancer has been known since 1935. In 1991, the World Bank decided not to finance the manufacture or use of products containing asbestos. This subject shocked the world again in 2001, after the World Trade Centre collapsed, when asbestos dust was released into the air.
By means of a European Union (EU) directive, all of its member states have had to ban the sale or use of any kind of asbestos since 2005, and in 2006, the EU launched a campaign with the bold motto: “Asbestos is deadly serious!”
The World Health Organisation, international medical institutions and US regulatory authorities have drawn up a list of products that contain asbestos and cause cancer in humans. The use of asbestos has been banned in every developed country for decades now, although asbestos use continues in some developing countries, such as the aforementioned Cuba.
The international ban on asbestos is governed by the Rotterdam Convention (in effect since 2004), signed by over 100 member states, but not without controversy as some countries still mine and produce asbestos.
Fortunately here in Australia, there has been a full ban on asbestos since 2003, and we sincerely hope Cuba, and the rest of the world for that matter, follow suit soon.
Canberra based demolition and excavation company, Samarkos Earthmoving, has been fined the sizeable sum of $60,00 dollars for work safety breaches.
The breaches occurred back in 2015 when Samarkos was contracted to demolish a house previously riddled with 'Mr Fluffy', an asbestos based insulation product. The house was located on Darke street, in the ACT suburb of Torrens.
Unlike a lot of other asbestos based building materials, which usually consist of asbestos fibres in cement, Mr fluffy is made of friable asbestos, which has its fibres exposed. This makes Mr Fluffy extremely dangerous, as fibres can easily become airborne. For this reason the removal of Mr fluffy is strictly regulated and the common practice for its removal is to use special vacuuming equipment.
My Fluffy never saw wide use in most of Australia (it is still found in some Sydney homes and even recently in the Sydney Opera House); however, Canberra has a significant number of homes containing the product, most famously in its now defunct Radburn Estates.
During Samarkos' ill fated demolition an excavator operator proceeded to demolish the property before workers had a chance to spray the house down with water. Although the friable asbestos had been previously removed in accordance with regulation, ACT health and safety laws also required that the house be sprayed with water before demolition to prevent the spread of dust.
Predictably, after the house was first struck by the excavator, a huge cloud of dust rose into the air. If it contained asbestos fibres this dust cloud would have posed a serious health risk to the neighbouring houses, as well as the Samarkos workers on site. Fortunately, no evidence of contamination has been found.
Samarkos plead guilty to the breaches and because the plea was submitted to the Industrial Magistrate early the penalty was reduced from $80,000 to $60,000.
This case and the hefty financial penalty it carried are a timely reminder of the importance of safely and correctly removing asbestos, particularly highly hazardous friable asbestos.
Today marks the beginning of National Asbestos Awareness Month for 2017. The month long campaign takes place every November and aims to educate Australians on the dangers of asbestos.
Sure, it might seem obvious, but asbestos still poses a huge risk to most Australians. Although asbestos has been banned since 2003, Australians still suffer from one of the highest rates of asbestos related disease in the world and the instance of asbestos related diseases is unfortunately on the rise.
Since home renovators and tradespeople are the most at risk of asbestos exposure, the 2017 campaign has adopted the tagline Renovating? Go Slow! Asbestos it's a No Go.
Although the campaign aims to share a variety of asbestos related safety messages, its key message is that many homes contain asbestos, not just those made from fibro. Asbestos is common in most homes built or renovated as late as 1990, and can be found in a variety of places like under floor coverings, in cement floors, in roofing or even in old dog kennels!
Australian actor and Wolf Creek star, John Jarratt, is the offical face of the campaign for 2017. John is a passionate asbestos safety advocate, being all too familiar with the dangers of asbestos after loosing his close friend, actor Harold Hopkins, in 2011 to mesothelioma caused by exposure to the deadly mineral.
When asked about his involvement in the campaign he said that 'Having the opportunity to warn people about the dangers [of asbestos] is very personal and important to me. I'm delighted to be on board to support this important message'.
As a business involved with the removal and disposal of asbestos, Ausbestos is a passionate supporter of National Asbestos Awareness Month. We are excited to continue to educate the public about the dangers of asbestos and be involved in its safe removal and disposal.
Asbestos awareness month runs from November 1-30. To find out more or to get involved check out the Asbestos Awareness month website.
Today, Australians are all too aware of the dangers of asbestos. A ban on the use, manufacture and importing of the substance has been in affect for close to 15 years and strict regulations control its removal and disposal. However, Australia hasn’t always been so savvy when it comes to asbestos and you don’t have to dig too deep into our nation’s past to uncover our now faded enthusiasm for the deadly mineral.
A prime example of this is the former Australian mining town of Wittenoom. Located in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, Wittenoom was once home to a booming asbestos mine, famous for its blue crocidolite asbestos.
Mining operations first began in the region in the 1930’s, although it wasn’t until 1943 that a blue asbestos mine was opened in Wittenoom Gorge. Fuelled by the increased demand for asbestos for gas masks and tanks for the war effort, the mine initially flourished, employing 7,000 men and women during its 26 years of operation. As well as those that worked for the mine, an estimated 13,000 people lived in the town and were in some way dependant on the revenue the mine created.
Although the health dangers of asbestos were somewhat known at this time, they were easy to disregard when it was asbestos putting food on the table and money in pockets. This dilemma, and the plight of Wittenoom in general, was the subject of the 1990 Midnight Oil album, Blue Sky Mine; its titular track featuring the lyrics ‘But if I work all day at the Blue Sky Mine there’ll be food on the table tonight’.
If you lived in Wittenoom, exposure to blue asbestos was inevitable. Piles of asbestos tailings were dumped in gorges and those that weren’t dumped were used in everything from roads, to pipelines, and even in children’s sandpits. It is believed that roughly 2000 former Wittenoom residents and mining workers have already died from asbestos related health problems.
For this reason the town began to be scaled down in 1978 with residents being offered money to leave their homes. In 2007 Wittenoom was officially taken off the map and degazetted by the state government. Today it is largely a ghost town, with only three permanent residents who stay on despite government warnings.
Wittenoom remains a foul mark on Australia's history, a costly tragedy that can never be erased. Fortunately, today in Australia the health risks of asbestos are very well known and strict legal framework is in place to prevent its mining and use.
However, this is not the case all over the world, and countries like Russia still mine and use huge amounts of asbestos.
Join us next time when we take a look at another very different asbestos mining town. A town so in love with the substance it is named after it: the town of Asbest in Russia.
It’s a home buyer's worst nightmare: you purchase a seemingly normal family home only to find out it is riddled with hazardous loose fill asbestos. This might sound like an unlikely scenario, but across Australia an increasing number of recent homebuyers are finding asbestos in their newly purchased home. As a result, forensic house demolitions are on the rise across the country.
One such unlucky homebuyer is Stuart Reese, who purchased his home at auction just over a year ago.
Everything seemed fine until Stuart decided to renovate and came across dirty old insulation falling from the ceiling. At first he didn’t think much of it, after all dirt and dust are just part of renovating, but a couple of weeks later he realised what he had come across was actually loose fill asbestos.
Also known as ‘friable asbestos’ or ‘Mr Fluffy’, loose fill asbestos is the most dangerous and hazardous asbestos building material. Unlike other more contained asbestos products, such as fibre board cement, loose fill asbestos is easily airborne and therefore easily inhaled. Found in ceilings and roof cavities, loose fibres from friable asbestos can move to other parts of the home, especially if the friable asbestos is older and has begun to crumble.
Loose fill asbestos is fairly uncommon, mainly seeing use in colder parts of the country, such as the outer suburbs of Canberra. But, as Stuart’s case proves, the hazardous insulation product can still be found in Sydney homes built in the 1960’s and 70’s.
If you do find loose fill asbestos in your home unfortunately the only viable option is to remove the asbestos then demolish the property. Simply removing the offending asbestos is not enough as contaminants can linger, so to ensure a safe environment the home must be carefully stripped of asbestos, demolished and then the soil must be tested for asbestos.
For Stuart, the process of ensuring his property is asbestos free has only just begun. Although he was able to demolish the asbestos ridden property, he must continue to get the property tested every ten years to ensure no asbestos degradation or contamination has occured.
As always, it is important that any asbestos products are removed by licensed professionals and disposed of in a legal and safe manner.
Like many other Australian buildings constructed in the 1950's, the iconic Sydney Opera House has been found to contain asbestos.
It was first reported back in August that asbestos fibres had been found in the building's wiringand that 25 workers were exposed to the carcinogenic material while working on a service duct. Last Thursday, more unexpected asbestos was detected while electricians were carrying out upgrades to the Opera House’s Joan Sutherland Theatre.
Samples of the substance were taken for testing on Thursday and confirmed to be friable asbestos on Friday. In response, the 35 electricians working on the Joan Sutherland Theatre refused to continue working due to the presence of the toxic substance.
Friable asbestos products, such as ‘Mr Fluffy’ were generally used as insulation. Not particularly common in Sydney, friable asbestos saw widespread use in colder parts of the country such as the outer suburbs of Canberra.
Also known as loose fill asbestos, friable asbestos is particularly hazardous. While other asbestos products are usually only dangerous if disturbed or removed incorrectly, fibres from friable asbestos easily become airborne with little provocation. Breathing in just a single asbestos fibre can lead to serious negative health effects like mesothelioma.
The side effects of asbestos exposure can take decades to emerge and this latest batch of workers exposed to the toxic substance won’t know for between 10 to 30 years if their exposure is fatal or not.
Although the company contracted to carry out the building upgrades, Laing O’Rourke, claims to have a comprehensive asbestos management plan in place, last week alone there were two unexpected asbestos finds, not including the workers exposed to asbestos back in August. Such asbestos finds pose a serious risk for workers carrying out the upgrades.
This high profile asbestos case is a harrowing reminder of the serious health risks posed by asbestos and how important it is that asbestos is removed carefully and by trained professionals.