Recent Disasters in Australia Trigger Asbestos Scare

According to a report out of Australia’s Herald Sun this week, the country’s government is handling an upswing in concerns from citizens who fear they may be in the midst of a possible asbestos exposure threat. The Herald Sun reports that “Submissions to the federal government's asbestos management review have raised concerns about whether people who helped with disaster clean ups unwittingly put their lives at risk while handling broken asbestos.” Over 60 organizations, including work groups, union committees, and education groups have spoken out to call for rule changes which include new plans for asbestos handling in the wake of natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, and fires, the Herald Sun reports. One of these changes addresses the risk bonded asbestos presents during natural disasters. The Herald reports that the chair of the review, Geoff Fary, explained that “while bonded asbestos was safe in buildings, if a disaster struck the asbestos was likely to break up into tiny particles which could be life threatening to anyone who inhales them. “ Historically, asbestos has had a major affect on those working in mining, construction, and industry. However, the Herald Sun reports that Fary said “experts feared the next wave would be people who helped in disaster clean ups.”  This includes “home renovators, many of whom tore down asbestos in walls, roofs and fences without knowing the dangers of breathing in its dangerous particles.” The nation’s industry representatives have targeted the government’s response to the Black Saturday brushfires as a proper model for the strategies that should be used when handling disasters in the future, the article explains. In that natural disaster response, a single asbestos removal contractor was employed by the Victorian government, which the Article called “highly effective,” recommending a similar approach in the future. The work of the government to have asbestos removed following the brushfires was considered a major improvement over the days following the Queensland floods. Asbestos materials were removed and improperly disposed of following the flood, without adhering to risk control guidelines, the news source explains. With some of the debris containing broken asbestos sheets, the risk of exposure became a real possibility to those involved in the cleanup. The report from the Herald Sun states that the chair of the review, Fary, will be required to develop a full recommendation for a strategic plan by June 2012. This would include “a national strategic plan for the management and removal of asbestos.”
Australia Associated Press. (November 15, 2011) “Disasters Spark More Asbestos Fears.” Retrieved on November 17, 2011 from the Australia Herald Sun.
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