There are calls for Australia to implement a total asbestos eradication plan, after a new report found that the complete removal of asbestos was the only safe way to manage the long-term risks of exposure.
Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency CEO Peter Tighe said that despite what many people think, asbestos doesn’t last forever and deteriorates as it ages.
“Over time, asbestos in bonded building materials can break down, and as long as it remains it will pose a hazard to human health and the environment. The only way to reduce asbestos-related diseases in Australia is by preventing exposure to this deadly substance, and that means completely removing it from our community.”
The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency was established in 2013 to oversee the National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Management and Awareness. At the time, Australia was considering a plan to remove all asbestos from commercial buildings by 2030. This was later scrapped, after Master Builders Australia warned that disturbing asbestos-containing materials that were in good condition would create unnecessary risks to workers and the public.
The report is based on the analysis of 11 asbestos building removal projects, including the Dallas Brooks Hall in Melbourne, the Amcor Botany Mill in Sydney, the Port Lincoln Hospital in South Australia, and a paper mill in Burnie, Tasmania. The findings stress the importance of careful planning, flexibility, effective communication, innovative thinking and building a business case which goes beyond a simple cost-benefit analysis.
Significantly, the report found that organisations opting to proactively remove asbestos reduce risk to employees and contractors, remove the need for ongoing maintenance and asbestos audits, and ultimately increase the value and potential reuse options for the site.
“These case studies highlight the benefits for governments and organisations of being proactive about removing asbestos from the workplace and the general community.”
Australia has the highest per capita incidence of mesothelioma in the world, with an average 700 deaths each year. The rate of all forms of asbestos-related diseases is up to five times this number – resulting in approximately 4,000 deaths per year.