Asbestos Improperly Dumped on Australian Coast

Australia's Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has uncovered evidence of improper asbestos disposal at three different waste transfer stations in Coffs Harbour, NSW. Proof of the dangerous practices surfaced during a series of 19 surprise visits by the EPA to facilities in Sydney, the Illawarra region, as well as Hunter Valley and the Mid North Coast. What they found has given officials serious cause for alarm. The three offending operations had not only misclassified asbestos, a toxic substance that is a known human carcinogen; they had also hidden it under piles of trash and construction debris. Inhaling or otherwise ingesting asbestos fibers can lead to the development of lung cancer, asbestosis, and a variety of other respiratory ailments. Asbestos is also a direct causation of a rare but terminal form of cancer known as mesothelioma. The International Labour Organization estimates that mesothelioma strikes as many as 10,000 people worldwide every year. Rates continue to rise, and the incidence in Australia is the highest in the world. Although its development is widely believed to require decades of contact with asbestos, mesothelioma has also occurred in people after only minimal exposure. It affects more men than women, which is largely believed to be linked to the industrial applications of the mineral. Diseases and illnesses linked to asbestos are typically considered to be occupational disease. However, women have been known to receive what is called secondary exposure, when they inhale asbestos fibers that have traveled into the home on clothes and hair of their family members. Since asbestos poses the greatest danger when its particles become airborne, careful handling and disposal is critical and strictly regulated, particularly at Australia's waste transfer stations. Although the occurrences at the three Coffs Harbour facilities violate regulations, EPA representative Steve Beaman states that his organization has not yet decided on a course of action. "We're currently reviewing the evidence," he says, "and we'll consider that evidence carefully before we consider what recourse action we'll take." The price paid by the offending transfer stations could be steep. Monetary penalties for asbestos mishandling start at a low of $5,000 for an on-the-spot fine, and they can go as high as $1 million if the transgressor happens to be a corporation. "They're significant fines," says Beaman, adding that they can apply to anyone who is "caught doing the wrong thing." At the very least, a bit of education may be in the cards. In Beaman's view, it is essential to train workers at these installations in the safest, most appropriate methods of handling asbestos. Most importantly, the misclassification and concealment of this dangerous substance needs to stop. "All sorts of people do it," says Beaman. "We need to crack down." Reference:
  • ABC News Staff Writer. (May 14, 2012). “Dumped asbestos on Coffs Coast alarms EPA.” Retrieved on May 15, 2012, from ABC News.
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