This year marks 20 years since asbestos was banned entirely in Australia, yet people must remain aware of what could be in their homes, with asbestos-containing materials hidden in one-third of Aussie residences. November is National Asbestos Awareness Month and focuses on creating better asbestos awareness and increasing education in communities about preventing asbestos-related diseases.
With asbestos-related diseases increasing among Australians as a direct result of exposure to asbestos fibres, the importance of raising awareness and educating Australians on how to manage asbestos safely in accordance with regulations cannot be overstated. When asbestos is disturbed and microscopic fibres are released that can be inhaled, this can lead to asbestos-related diseases, including asbestosis, lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma. There is no cure for mesothelioma, a cancer that can develop between 20 to 60 years after inhaling asbestos fibres, with the average survival time following diagnosis around 12 months.
Chair of the Asbestos Education Committee and Advocacy Australia Clare Collins said people should take proper precautions when work is being undertaken, whether during home renovations or in the workplace.
"While Australia faces the serious wave of silicosis disease, a preventable occupational lung disease predominantly impacting workers from a wide range of industries, Australians must never forget that asbestos lurking in homes continues to pose serious health risks to anyone exposed to fibres when asbestos is not managed safely during renovations, maintenance or demolition, including mums, dads and children," she said.
"There is no known safe level of exposure to asbestos fibres, and with interest rates rising and a shortage of tradies putting pressure on homeowners to do their own renovations, we hold serious concerns that DIYers might risk their lives and the lives of loved ones if they fail to respect the life-threatening risks when asbestos is not managed safely and in line with regulations."
Many homeowners know little of asbestos risks and think only tradespeople are at risk of asbestos-related diseases. According to the most recent Australian Mesothelioma Registry Report in April 2023, 83 per cent of respondents were assessed as having had 'possible or probable' exposure to asbestos fibres in non-occupational settings.
Of the patients surveyed, the dominant non-occupational exposure to asbestos fibres was 51 per cent and occurred when undertaking major home renovations. Additionally, 38 per cent said they'd lived in a house undergoing renovations, 20 per cent said they'd lived in the same home as someone who was exposed to asbestos at work and brought the fibres home in dust, while 12 per cent said they'd lived in a house made of fibro that was built between 1947 and 1987.
Asbestos Awareness ambassador and renovation expert Cherie Barber lost her grandfather to asbestos-related disease and said agencies like the Asbestos Education Committee were vital in raising awareness of the potential dangers in homes.
"Australia was one of the highest consumers of ACMs [asbestos-containing materials] globally, which is why asbestos will remain an ever-present danger embedded in every corner of Australian life for generations to come," she said. "The only way we can help prevent deaths caused by asbestos exposure is to continue our campaign to increase awareness of the risks and ensure the community has access to vital information that just may save their life or the life of a loved one."
November will also see National Asbestos Awareness Week run from Monday, November 20 to Sunday, November 26, with the theme 'Think Twice about Asbestos'. The week aims to remind people of the prevalence and danger of asbestos in homes and workplaces and provides simple messages on avoiding exposure. For more information, visit asbestosawareness.com.au.
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