MEDIA RELEASE: 4 NOVEMBER 2020
Prevention is the Only Cure: In 2020 More Australians Will Die from Asbestos Exposure than COVID-19
November is National Asbestos Awareness Month - Friday 27 November is Asbestos Awareness Day 2020
In 2020, more than 4,000 Australians will die from asbestos-related diseases caused from exposure to asbestos fibres either in the home or in the workplace – that’s 3000 more deaths compared to the number of Australians who will have died from COVID-19 in the first year of the pandemic.
However, unlike COVID-19, deaths in Australia from asbestos-related diseases have been ongoing for more than 100 years. 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.
As with COVID-19, the most effective means of preventing asbestos-related deaths is to prevent exposure – inhalation of deadly asbestos fibres. However, according to the Australian Mesothelioma Registry, Australia has one of the highest measured incidences in the world having recorded a steady increase in mesothelioma cases over the past 40 years with two Australians (on average) diagnosed every day in the last year alone.*
Professor Ken Takahashi, Director of the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute (ADRI) said, “Despite the sinister history of asbestos in Australia, and the prediction that deaths from asbestos-related diseases will continue to rise due to Australia’s legacy of wide-spread use of asbestos-containing materials (ACM); Australians remain complacent about the dire consequences of disturbing ACM and continue to ignore the warnings.”
“Just as Australians have heeded the serious warnings, worn PPE and taken the hard decisions and necessary precautions to prevent community transmission to dramatically minimise deaths from COVID-19; with asbestos-related deaths in Australia predicted to rise due to homeowners and tradespeople inhaling asbestos fibres during renovations or the maintenance of older properties, 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.
“Unlike COVID-19, where diagnosis may be confirmed within 24-48 hours, diagnosing asbestos-related diseases can take many years so if Australians continue to ignore the warnings about asbestos; in coming years families across Australia will be devastated when a loved one is diagnosed with a deadly asbestos-related disease that could have easily been prevented by managing asbestos safely.”
With Australia among the highest consumers of asbestos in the world, and with the wide-spread use of ACM in the construction of homes built or renovated prior to 1987 and in commercial and non-residential structures prior to 31 December 2003, it’s going to be many years (if ever), before all remaining ACM is completely removed from properties.
There are thousands of different types of products that contain asbestos and remain in one third of Australian homes built or renovated prior to 1987 including fibro, brick, weatherboard, clad homes and apartments as well as in many commercial and non-residential structures including buildings, fences and farm sheds.
If undisturbed, well maintained, and in a stable, sealed condition, asbestos is unlikely to pose health risks. However, the risk of inhaling asbestos 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 releases a high concentration of fibres.
Cherie Barber, Australia’s Renovation Queen and Ambassador for National Asbestos Awareness Month who lost her Grandfather to an asbestos-related disease said, “With more than 4000 Australians dying each year from asbestos-related diseases and the cause directly linked to DIY and renovating, it’s vital that during National Asbestos Awareness Month renovators, DIYers, tradies, property managers, demolition and construction workers make it their business to learn how to manage asbestos safely by visiting asbestosawareness.com.au.
“With Australia’s passion for renovating fuelled by many popular DIY lifestyle programs and the increase in DYI during COVID-19, if Australians don’t start taking the warnings seriously, we could be risking our lives and the lives of our loved ones including our children,” she said.
The first wave of asbestos-related diseases in Australia resulted from mining. The second wave affected tradespeople who worked in transport, manufacturing and the installation of products that contained asbestos. Following the Australia-wide ban on asbestos on 31 December 2003, the third wave of asbestos victims are tradespeople and do-it-yourself home renovators who disturb ACM during the renovation process with the number of Australians diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases predicted to continue to rise in coming years.
Asbestos materials were used everywhere in homes and in commercial and non-residential structures - lurking under floor coverings including carpets, linoleum and vinyl tiles, behind wall and floor tiles, in cement floors, internal and external walls, ceilings and ceiling space (insulation), eaves, garages, 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. Occupational hygienists or licenced asbestos assessors can inspect your property and if you need to remove asbestos, please only use licenced asbestos removalists because it’s not worth the risk!” Ms Barber said.
Renovating? GO SLOW - Asbestos it’s a NO GO! Visit asbestosawareness.com.au to find out what you need to know!
THE NATIONAL ASBESTOS AWARENESS MONTH CAMPAIGN & ASBESTOSAWARENESS.COM.AU ARE CURRENTLY UNFUNDED, AND CONDUCTED PRO-BONO BY INSIGHT COMMUNICATIONS & I-NEX TO HELP SAVE LIVES
Visit asbestosawareness.com.au for information and useful, practical resources including:
- Asbestos in Your Home – The Ultimate Renovators Guide (Easy to follow video hosted by Australia’s Renovation Queen and Asbestos Awareness Ambassador, Cherie Barber)
- Asbestos Awareness Healthy House Checklist – A Homeowner’s Guide to Identifying Asbestos-Containing Materials (User-friendly step-by-step guide to identifying asbestos in the home)
- Asbestos Awareness - 20 Point Safety Check (Asbestos risks and how to manage asbestos safely)
- Fact Sheets for Homeowners (When, why and how to use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- Residential Checklist for Tradies – A Tradespersons Guide to Asbestos (Identify the product types and locations in residential properties)
- Trade Specific Checklist for Tradies – A Tradespersons Guide to Asbestos (Tailored to trades)
- Fact Sheets for Tradies (When, why and how to use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- Asbestos Product Database (Australia’s first comprehensive online asbestos product database)
- Asbestos Management for Commercial and Non-Residential Properties (Australia’s only online resource)
- Naturally Occurring Asbestos (Australia’s only comprehensive online NOA resource)
- 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 interview requests contact Insight Communications 02 9518 4744
For images of asbestos-containing materials: https://asbestosawareness.box.com/v/AsbestosAwarenessImages
Journalist Notes: For information about asbestos, resources and statistics see below or access our Media Centre: https://asbestosawareness.com.au/resources-downloads/media-centre/
* Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Accessed: 3 November 2020
ASBESTOS AWARENESS MONTH - JOURNALIST NOTES
Renovating? Go Slow! Asbestos – It’s a NO GO!
THE HEALTHY HOUSE CHECKLIST
The Healthy House Checklist is designed to empower homeowners and renovators with a better understanding of the possible locations of asbestos-containing materials in homes and the knowledge they need to ensure it is managed safely.
The Healthy House Checklist is free to download and provides a practical guide for homeowners enabling them to conduct a simple step-by-step easy to follow visual inspection of their property.
These Checklists include product images and lists each possible location where asbestos-containing materials might be found both inside and outside homes. By following simple step-by-step instructions, in less than an hour homeowners can have a better understanding of the types of products that might be in their home and if it’s in need of maintenance, repair or removal.
Importantly, if planning any renovation or refurbishment to their property such as replacing floorcoverings, fencing or roofing, homeowners will know in advance if they need to engage a licenced asbestos assessor or removalist to ensure the work is done safely. The Checklist also enables homeowners to maintain a record of possible asbestos locations should work or renovations be anticipated in the future and monitor asbestos-containing materials to ensure they remain sealed.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: http://asbestosawareness.com.au/fact-sheets
ASBESTOS IN YOUR HOME – THE ULTIMATE RENOVATORS GUIDE (ONLINE VIDEO)
Asbestos In Your Home – The Ultimate Renovators Guide online video is the leading visual information resource helping Australians identify the various locations in homes where asbestos might be found providing the most practical and easily accessible resource for homeowners, renovators and tradespersons.
Produced by Cherie Barber (National Asbestos Awareness Ambassador) and her Renovating for Profit team is presented in a reality TV format that Australians easily relate to. Featuring Cherie Barber (Australia’s Renovation Queen), the video takes audiences on a 14:23 minute tour of a typical un-renovated Australian home and features special appearances by National Asbestos Awareness Ambassadors, Don Burke OAM, Barry Du Bois (Australia’s Renovation King) and Scott McGregor.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: http://asbestosawareness.com.au/asbestos-in-the-home/video-asbestos-in-your-home/
THE ASBESTOS PRODUCTS DATABASE
The Asbestos Products Database is Australia’s first and most extensive online resource that assists homeowners, renovators and tradespeople in identifying asbestos-containing materials so they can be managed safely.
Accessible on mobile and desktop devices, the database is user friendly and provides people with multiple search options including products commonly used in Domestic Homes, Agricultural, Automotive, Commercial, Industrial, Marine, Plant and other options. People can also search by construction period and asbestos type. The database features 60 different product types and more than 550 product photographs with descriptions and locations where these products might be found in homes built or renovated prior to 1987. There are also PDFs itemising product information that can be downloaded if required.
The database can also be searched by residential location with information and photographs about the various product types that might be found specific to multiple areas including kitchens, bathrooms, living areas, laundries, exterior house and so on.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: http://asbestosawareness.com.au/asbestos-products-database
Tradespersons are particularly at risk of exposure to asbestos because they can encounter it in their day-to-day work and all too often they’ve come from a culture where asbestos risks have been ignored.
The ‘Residential Checklist for Tradies – A Tradespersons Guide to Asbestos Containing Materials in Domestic Properties’ is a valuable tool for Tradies that increases their understanding of the various products they need to be wary of when working on residential properties to ensure they engage suitably qualified professionals to conduct asbestos-related work or remove asbestos-containing materials safely.
While tradies may have worked with asbestos in the past and ignored the warnings, they need to be aware that the more a person is exposed to fibres, the greater the risk of developing asbestos-related diseases so it’s vital that they conduct visual inspections of properties to look for the potential dangers to ensure they’re managed safely.
The Checklists provide instructions on how to conduct a visual inspection only and homeowners and tradies are encouraged to have an inspection conducted by an occupational hygienist or licenced asbestos assessor if they suspect asbestos-containing materials may be in need of repair or removal. Tradespersons can access 28 various Asbestos Awareness Checklist resources for domestic properties from asbestosawareness.com.au including instructions on how to conduct a house check and trade specific checklists.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: http://asbestosawareness.com.au/asbestos-for-tradies/tradies-fact-sheets/
Trades - Carpenters, joiners, builders, bricklayers, painters and tillers, electricians, electricity industry supply workers, building maintenance workers, building construction and civil construction workers, plumbers, roofers, boilermakers, welders, metal and mechanical trades including fitters, turners, machinists, telecommunications technicians, landscapers, automotive repair workers, demolition workers, emergency services workers and their volunteers, landfill operators, waste disposal facility workers, ship and boat builders, marine engineers, waterside workers.
The resource package for Asbestos Management for Commercial and Non-Residential Properties was developed in accordance with the Work Health and Safety (WH&S) regulations, the Asbestos Codes of Practice; How to Manage and Control Asbestos in the Workplace, How to Safely Remove Asbestos and the Work Health and Safety Consultation Cooperation and Coordination.
The Handbook, Templates and Fact Sheets aim to provide those industries most affected by asbestos in commercial and non-residential properties with essential information to increase understanding of the responsibilities associated with asbestos management and the requirements for compliance with government regulations.
The Asbestos in Commercial & Non-Residential Properties Resources package includes 13 resources that are FREE to download.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: https://asbestosawareness.com.au/commercial-properties/commercial-downloads/
IS IT SAFE TO REMOVE ASBESTOS YOURSELF?
If you must remove it yourself, you MUST take precautions! Removing asbestos can be a dangerous and complicated process. We recommend using only licenced professional removalists who will also dispose of it in accordance with NSW Government regulations. However, if you are thinking about removing even a small amount of asbestos yourself, at the very minimum you should meticulously follow ALL of the steps listed at asbestosawareness.com.au in order to protect your health and the health of those around you including children.
The important point is this: if you need to work with materials that may contain asbestos, you must work so there is a minimal release of fibres, dust or small particles from the asbestos materials. It is recommended that if you are considering removing or working with asbestos yourself, you undertake a training course to ensure you have the training to do it safely. A list of asbestos removal registered training organisations can be found via asbestosawareness.com.au.
IMPORTANT: If the asbestos is in powder form or can be crumbled, pulverised or reduced to powder by hand pressure when dry, it must be removed by an asbestos removal contractor with a friable asbestos licence.
GET TO KNOW ABOUT ASBESTOS WASTE DISPOSAL
- Asbestos waste can only be disposed of at authorised landfills.
- You must first contact your local council to locate your nearest licenced waste landfill site.
- Ensure asbestos waste has been wetted, wrapped in 200um thick plastic, and sealed with tape before it is transported to a landfill site that may lawfully receive the waste.
- It must be clearly labelled as "asbestos waste".
- It must be transported in a covered, leak-proof vehicle.
- It is wise to keep copies of receipts from landfills where asbestos was taken as councils or the Environment Protection Authority in your state may require you to produce these receipts as proof of proper disposal.
20 Point Asbestos Safety Check
- At least 1 in 3 Australian homes contains asbestos including brick, weatherboard, fibro and clad homes.
- Asbestos was widely used in building materials before 1987 so if your home was built or renovated before 1987 it most likely contains asbestos in some form or another.
- If asbestos is disturbed during renovations or maintenance, your health and the health of your family could be at risk.
- DIY is not recommended where asbestos is present.
- When renovating or working in and around homes, if in doubt assume asbestos materials are present and take every precaution.
- Dealing with asbestos is important and serious, but it’s not overwhelming – IT IS MANAGEABLE!
- If you’re not sure if asbestos is in your home you can have it inspected by a licenced removalist or a licensed asbestos assessor.
- Products made from asbestos cement include fibro sheeting (flat and corrugated), water, drainage and flue pipes, roofing shingles, guttering and floor and wall coverings. It could be anywhere!
- If you find asbestos in your home; Don’t cut it! Don’t drill it! Don’t drop it! Don’t sand it! Don’t saw it! Don’t scrape it! Don’t scrub it! Don’t dismantle it! Don’t tip it! Don’t waterblast it! Don’t demolish it! And whatever you do... Don’t dump it!”
- If left undisturbed asbestos materials in good, stable condition are unlikely to release dangerous fibres and pose a health risk. Generally, you don’t need to remove the asbestos. Paint it and leave it alone but remember to check it occasionally for any signs of wear and tear.
- There are legal requirements regarding asbestos management, its removal and disposal.
- While some might follow the regulations and safety requirements to remove small amounts of asbestos, the safest way to manage its removal is to retain a licenced professional asbestos removalist equipped to protect you and your family from the dangers of asbestos dust and fibres.
- Where asbestos fibres are friable (loose and not bonded into building materials), ONLY licenced friable asbestos removalists are allowed to remove it.
- Professional removal of asbestos is affordable. You can’t afford not to use a professional!
- The cost of asbestos removal by a licenced professional is comparable to most licenced tradesmen including electricians, plumbers and tilers.
- The cost of disposal at a lawful site is often included with the cost of removal by a licenced professional.
- If you must work with any material that may contain asbestos or remove asbestos yourself, protect yourself and your family and follow the legal and safety requirements for the management of asbestos to minimise the release of dust or small particles from the asbestos materials.
- There are a number of safety precautions needed including wearing specific protective clothing, the correct mask or breathing apparatus and ensure you minimise dust and dispose of asbestos legally.
- Never use tools on asbestos materials as they will make asbestos fibres airborne including:
- Power tools such as electric drills, angle grinders, circular saws and electric sanders.
- Never use high pressure water blasters or compressed air.
- Are you playing renovation roulette? Get to kNOw Asbestos this NOvember! Visit asbestosawareness.com.au Because it’s not worth the risk!
FOR MORE INFORMATION: http://asbestosawareness.com.au/20-point-safety-check/
WHERE MIGHT ASBESTOS BE LOCATED IN HOMES?
Australians may unknowingly put their health and the health of families, children, and neighbours at risk because they don’t kNOw the dangers of asbestos or where it might be found in and around homes.
Products made from bonded asbestos cement that may have been used in your home include:
- Fibro sheeting (flat and corrugated) which may have been used in internal walls and ceilings, external walls and cladding, infill panels in windows and doors, eves, fencing, carports, backyard sheds and dog kennels, electrical switchboards, sheeting under floor tiles, bathroom walls, backing to floor tiles and sheet vinyl, carpet underlay, and the backing behind the ceramic wall tiles and textile seals to the oven.
- Water drainage and flue pipes.
- Roofing shingles and guttering.
- In some homes, loose-fill asbestos was used in ceiling space as insulation in homes in NSW and the ACT.
IMPORTANT: If fire, hail or water blasting damages non-friable asbestos, it may become friable asbestos material and must be managed and removed by a licenced Friable Asbestos Removalist.
NOVEMBER IS NATIONAL ASBESTOS AWARENESS MONTH
In 2011, the Asbestos Education Committee (AEC) in partnership with the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute (ADRI) conducted a NSW based campaign to educate homeowners about the dangers of asbestos when renovating or maintaining homes. Following the success of the NSW Asbestos Awareness Campaign, the AEC and ADRI launched a national campaign, Asbestos Awareness Week 2012. In 2013, the AEC and ADRI launched National Asbestos Awareness Month.
In 2020 the aim of the National Asbestos Awareness Month Campaign is to continue to promote wide-spread awareness of the dangers of asbestos to help reach as many Australians as possible with the lifesaving message to minimise harm to the health of Australians.
The National Asbestos Awareness Month Campaign and website asbestosawareness.com.au is currently unfunded and are conducted pro-bono by Insight Communications and I-NEX to help save lives.
As a response to the increasing incidence of malignant mesothelioma in Australia, the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute (ADRI), located in the Bernie Banton Centre, Concord NSW was opened by the then Prime Minister, the Hon. Kevin Rudd in January 2009. ADRI was established by the Asbestos Diseases Research Foundation (a charitable not-for-profit organisation) dedicated to preventing asbestos related diseases.
The ADRI’s primary objectives are to: Improve the diagnosis and treatment of asbestos-related disease and at the same time to contribute to more effective measures to prevent exposure to asbestos. With the establishment of the ADRI, as the first stand-alone research institute in the world dedicated to tackling this silent and still increasing epidemic, Australia has taken a vital step forward in the international fight against asbestos-related diseases.
Mesothelioma is a cancer arising from the lining (mesothelium) of the thoracic and abdominal cavities. The disease is usually advanced before symptoms appear, making an early diagnosis and effective treatment very difficult. The average survival time after diagnosis is only 10-12 months. A small exposure to asbestos can be enough to trigger the cancer, however a relatively small percentage of people exposed to asbestos fibres will eventually develop mesothelioma. There usually is a lag of 20-50 years after the first asbestos exposure before the disease is diagnosed.
Inflammation of the outer lining of the lung, the pleura (where asbestos fibres are deposited). The pleura stiffens and thickens widely (diffuse thickening) or in patches (plaques), and can fill with fluid.
This is scarring of the lungs by inhalation of large quantities of asbestos fibres: the lung becomes inflamed and scarred (stiff) making breathing progressively difficult. Symptoms include tightness in the chest, dry cough, and in the later stages, a bluish tinge to the skin caused by lack of oxygen. Asbestosis is usually seen in former asbestos miners, asbestos manufacturing workers and insulation workers, and usually takes a decade or more to develop.
Exposure to asbestos fibres greatly increases the risk of developing lung cancer in people who smoke.
Malignant mesothelioma (MM) almost uniquely caused by asbestos exposure was seldom diagnosed until the 1960’s. Since 2006 more than 600 Australians were diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma each year and experts have estimated that there were at least another 1,350 Australians with lung cancer caused by asbestos. A tragic consequence of highly intensive use of asbestos and its products in Australia in the previous century, it is estimated that these figures will continue to rise in the coming decades.
MM is a disease that develops several years after the first exposure to asbestos fibres. However, the disease is currently also diagnosed in young adults incidentally exposed to asbestos fibres as children. The fact that approximately 1/3 of older Australian homes built or renovated before the mid 1980’s contain asbestos, reinforces the significance of Australians undertaking adequate preventive measures. The prognosis of MM patients is poor and almost all will experience severely debilitating symptoms. MM is only partially responding to the current forms of oncologic therapy and currently there is no curative treatment for the disease. It is therefore critical that we make a substantial investment in medical research to find better means of understanding the specific biology of MM in order to try to achieve better clinical outcomes for people affected by the disease.
- Park EK, Yates DH, Hyland RA, Johnson AR. Asbestos exposure during home renovation in New South Wales. Medical Journal Australa, September 2013; 199 (6): 410-413. https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2013/199/6/asbestos-exposure-during-home-renovation-new-south-wales
- Olsen NJ, Franklin PJ, Reid A, de Klerk NH, Threlfall TJ, Shilkin K, Musk B, 5-Sept-2011, “Increasing incidence of malignant mesothelioma after exposure to asbestos during home maintenance and renovation”, Medical Journal of Australia, 195 (5): 271-274. www.mja.com.au/journal/2011/195/5/increasing-incidence-malignant-mesothelioma-after-exposure-asbestos-during-home
- Park EK, Hyland R, Yates D, Thomas PS, Johnson A. Prevalence of self-reported asbestos exposure during home renovation in NSW residents. Respirology Supplement 1, Poster 143. March 2010 www.mja.com.au/journal/2013/199/6/asbestos-exposure-during-home-renovation-new-south-wales
- Australian Mesothelioma Registry Reports 2012 - 2019 https://www.mesothelioma-australia.com/publications-and-data/publications
- Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma, Asbestos Diseases Research Institute, July 2013 http://asbestosresearch.org.au/?page_id=2794
Clare Collins or Alice CollinsP: 02 9518 4744