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Asbestos and Mesothelioma in Australia | How to keep safe

28 December, 2017
Asbestos and Mesothelioma

This article has been made in collaboration with Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. To learn more about asbestos safety and mesothelioma, check out their articles 'What is Asbestos?' and '4 Ways children and teens are exposed to asbestos'.

Asbestos and mesothelioma

Daily life can be filled with so many interactions with environmental toxins, from air pollution to substances used in manufactured items we encounter daily. Exposure to these substances can over time lead to harmful effects on health.

Whether they are manmade or naturally-occurring, environmental toxins can cause harm in a number of ways. If these toxins are present in large amounts, they may pose a risk of harming those who encounter them, especially if materials containing these toxins are handled improperly or misused. Lead in paint and plumbing, radon in compromised building foundations, carbon monoxide in poorly ventilated areas, silica dust and asbestos are just a few examples of environmental toxins that are naturally occurring and were mined and used in a number of applications during the previous century in Australia. Exposure to any of these can leave people in danger, particularly those who worked in trades around these minerals, especially those who are exposed to asbestos.

After realizing the dangers of asbestos and the knowledge that it is a known human carcinogen, Australia enacted a ban on the use of asbestos in 2003. Studies indicate nations that currently have bans in place, including the UK and Sweden, all have seen their rates of asbestos-related diseases at least plateau, if not decline, proving the positive impact banning this carcinogen has for the public. Taking these actions to help protect workers, families and individuals from continuing to use this toxin will ensure thousands of lives are not lost to asbestos-related diseases in years to come.

Asbestos is an invisible mineral fiber that is relatively safe when encased and the materials that contain it remain undamaged. However, if disturbed or broken, these microscopic fibers become airborne and can easily enter the body and become trapped when inhaled or ingested. Over time, asbestos can cause irritation, leading to tumors and scarring. Asbestosis, asbestos lung cancer and mesothelioma are all diseases known to be caused by asbestos exposure, the most serious of which is mesothelioma cancer. A rare and aggressive form, mesothelioma is so dangerous due to the difficulties in properly diagnosing the cancer and the poor prognosis patients often face, on average between 12-21 months. Since avoiding exposure is the only way to prevent asbestos-related diseases, awareness is vital. Having the knowledge of where it’s commonly found and how to properly handle suspected asbestos can go a long way in protecting yourself and your loved ones.

Utilized in both its raw state as well as in manufactured items from clothing, household products and heavily in construction applications, asbestos was used heavily up until the mid-1980s. While the use of asbestos has been banned in Australia for almost 15 years, it’s estimated to be present in up to one-third of houses built in Australia, speaking to the remaining danger of existing asbestos. Homes, schools and commercial spaces built prior to the mid 1980s are all potentially at risk of having asbestos-containing materials.

According to the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, these items have a high probability of containing asbestos:

  • roof sheeting and capping
  • guttering
  • gables, eaves/soffitswater pipes and flues
  • wall sheeting (flat or a weatherboard style
  • vinyl sheet flooring
  • carpet and tile underlays
  • zelemite backing boards to the switchboards
  • flexible building boards
  • imitation brick cladding
  • fencing
  • carports and sheds
  • waterproof membrane
  • telecommunications pits
  • some window putty
  • expansion joints
  • packing under beams
  • concrete formwork

Simple steps of being vigilant and monitoring areas that are at a high risk of containing asbestos, as well as hiring a licensed professional to carry out any testing and all removal of the toxin, will not only maintain living and working spaces, but prevent exposure and ensure the health of those around these environments.

All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified medical practitioner. CBHS endeavours to provide independent and complete information, and content may include information regarding services, products and procedures not covered by CBHS Health Cover policies. For full terms, click here.

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