February 23, 2019

Health effects of Mr Fluffy asbestos exposure to be studied

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Asbestos was in the air everyone breathed all the time, given its use in so many building materials, he said. Until recently, every time a bus used its brakes a burst of asbestos fibres was released because brake pads had been made of asbestos. Biopsies of lungs suggested asbestos was present in the lungs of most Australians, he said.

While low exposures could cause disease, the risk increased with intensity of exposure or time, he said. Short, sharp exposures such as during home renovations increased risk, as did lower exposures over a long period. When he asked how many people at Sunday’s forum had done home renovations, most put up their hands.

But even with high exposures, most people would not get sick, Dr Pengilley said, pointing out that the vast majority of people in the Western Australia asbestos mining town, Wittenoom, never developed an asbestos-related disease.

Among home renovators exposed to asbestos, five in 100,000 people a year developed mesothelioma after 35 years, he said. Among Wittenoom residents, the annual risk of developing mesothelioma was 26 in 100,000. Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the lungs. Two Mr Fluffy residents have been diagnosed with the disease this year; one recently died.

Asbestosis is another asbestos-caused disease, but Dr Pengilley said he did not expect people living in Mr Fluffy homes to develop the condition, which was marked by scarring on the lungs and breathing problems. He said asbestosis was generally seen in people who had been exposed to a lot of asbestos.

The residents at the forum questioned officials about risks to their health, both physical and psychological, and the potential for the loss of their homes and “everything they’ve worked for”.

Some urged fellow residents to stay calm given the low risk, while others warned against complacency.

The forum heard concerns about the quality of asbestos assessments and the difficulty of notifying tradespeople, family and friends who had been in contaminated homes.

The head of thoracic medicine at Canberra Hospital, Mark Hurwitz, said experts were divided on the value of having a chest X-ray. But in his view it was worthwhile as a baseline with which to compare health problems that occurred down the track.

Chest X-rays were of low-dose radiation – the same as flying to Brisbane – he said. But he stressed they had no value for predicting whether you would get sick later.

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Health effects of Mr Fluffy asbestos exposure to be studied

Deadly asbestos fibres continue their ripple effect

Deadly asbestos fibres continue their ripple effect

WA News


Leanne Nicholson

Asbestos led to the removal of Wittenoom's status as a town in 2007.

Asbestos led to the removal of Wittenoom’s status as a town in WA in 2007.

Asbestos may have been banned from Australian manufacturing since the mid-1980s but the effects continue to be felt beyond the initial victims and decades after the prohibition of the deadly fibres.

The Asbestos Narratives, released by Southern Cross University, considered the social and psychological impacts of the asbestos disease and, of all groups facing challenges, the disease had a greater impact on women.

“Women are likely to form a significant proportion of the emerging third wave of exposure to asbestos and may suffer considerable hardship as a result,” project leader and the university’s director of Regional Initiative for Social Innovation and Research, Associate Professor Rick van der Zwan said.

“The medical effects of this disease are well researched, but little has been known about the social, psychological and economic implications for those diagnosed, their carers and their families.


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Deadly asbestos fibres continue their ripple effect

Asbestos fears in wake of Christine

Residents affected by ex-tropical cyclone Christine are warned over the risk of exposure to asbestos.

Residents affected by ex-tropical cyclone Christine are warned over the risk of exposure to asbestos after buildings were hammered earlier in the week.

The cyclonic winds and pelting rain may have passed by Western Australia’s Pilbara and Kimberley regions, however, ex-tropical cyclone Christine has exposed a fresh yet familiar danger for residents to contend with.

Asbestos in buildings, fencing and other building products dislodged or damaged during the wild weather now pose an additional health risk to Pilbara residents if they are exposed to the cancer-causing material.

Slater and Gordon asbestos lawyer Laine McDonald issued the warning to residents of the risks of asbestos exposure during the cleaning up of properties, homes and businesses battered by Christine.

“Once asbestos is disturbed, it can pose a real danger to health,” Ms McDonald said.


“Residents who are returning to their homes and businesses could be at risk of exposure, especially if they start cleaning up without the right protection.

“While it’s difficult to tell if a structure contains asbestos, if it was built in the mid-1980s – the time when this common building product was phased out – you assume there’s a risk.”

It’s believe about 600 Australian are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year.

Asbestos was commonly used as a construction material throughout the Pilbara.

It was mined in Wittenoom, 1100 kilometres north-east of Perth in the Pilbara, before the town was evacuated and essentially wiped off the map by authorities.

“Asbestos products damaged by severe storms like cyclone Christine can release a very dangerous dust which, once breathed in, can cause mesothelioma, lung cancer and other serious illnesses,” Ms McDonald said.

“Each year around 250 Western Australians die from asbestos-related diseases, with a lag of about 30-40 years between exposure and diagnosis of an illness.

“Asbestos products are still in our homes, businesses and communities more than 40 years after the Wittenoom mine closed, so it’s a hazard that continues to confront us all.”

Despite the category three cyclone coming within about 100 kilometres of the Town of Port Hedland, mayor Kelly Howlett said the district had escaped with minor damage, mostly to the area’s natural landscape.

“We’ve got a lot of cleaning up to do but we were very fortunate,” Cr Howlett said.

“We’ve not seen any bad structural damage, just a few trees down, a lot of sand swept up from the beach and a bit of flooding.”

Cr Howlett said new and updated property development in the region had reduced the number of buildings containing asbestos.

“It’s generally been replaced in the past decade … but there’s still quite a bit.”

She said the town’s asbestos handling and removal safety procedures were “well known” to residents.

“Residents need to get relevant council approval [to remove asbestos material], but they’re quite well versed in that.”

Originally from:  

Asbestos fears in wake of Christine

Asbestos concerns at Kimberley community

Children in a third Kimberley Aboriginal community are using an abandoned building believed to contain potentially deadly asbestos as a playground, the State Opposition has claimed.

Labor MLC Stephen Dawson last week stepped up his calls for the State Government to establish a register of asbestos buildings in Aboriginal communities in the wake of the latest revelations about the small community of Wangkatjungka, about 130km from Fitzroy Crossing.

In July, The Kimberley Echo revealed dilapidated asbestos buildings in two Kimberley communities had remained unfenced and without signage for years, with children at times playing in them.

“A couple months ago we raised the issues of asbestos in Bayulu and Beagle Bay communities, and from that a range of communities have started to contact me with similar concerns,” Mr Dawson said.

“In respect to Wangkatjungka, I had someone in the community check out this building for me and (they) were sure there was asbestos in this derelict building that needed to be removed.”

Mr Dawson said the community had recently hosted a sporting carnival and he believed the building was also used as temporary accommodation.

“It needs to be boarded up immediately… I’ve called on the Government to do a bit of an audit in these communities to establish where the asbestos is so it can be removed,” he said.

“I haven’t received any action on it and I do have a real fear that in 20 or 30 years’ time we will have a cohort of Aboriginal people who are all suffering mesothelioma or asbestos-related diseases.”

“That’s essentially what happened when there was asbestos mined in places like Wittenoom 30 or 40 years ago.”

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Peter Collier said because the land at Wangkatjungka was leased, the buildings were the responsibility of the community.

However, the Department of Aboriginal Affairs was working with the community to find a solution.

He said asbestos was in the past a commonly used building material and it was likely a number of buildings across the State, including those in Aboriginal communities, contained asbestos.

“Concerns primarily arise when the material is disturbed,” he said.

“When asbestos is identified as potentially dangerous we work quickly to ensure community safety.

“In addition, the Aboriginal Lands Trust, through DAA, is working with key State and commonwealth agencies to develop a risk management framework, aligned to government policy directions.”


Asbestos concerns at Kimberley community

Railway workers exposed to asbestos in Chinese-made trains

China is now the world s largest user of white asbestos.
ABC China is now the world’s largest user of white asbestos.

Railway workers have been exposed to potentially hazardous asbestos after the deadly dust was found in locomotives brought in from China.

The breach of a 10-year ban on the import of products containing the carcinogenic fibre is not the first incident of its kind.

Unions are now demanding tougher policing of Chinese imports, describing the current asbestos-free certificates as a farce.

Last year freight carrier SCT imported 10 locomotives made by China Southern Rail (CSR) to tow iron ore bound for China to port.

To comply with the decade-old Australian ban on asbestos imports, they were certified asbestos-free. However, this was not the case.

National secretary of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union Bob Nanva says maintenance workers raised concerns about the dust.

“We had our maintenance workers repairing a number of diesel engines,” he said.

“They identified a lot of white dust among those engines and asked the question as to whether or not that dust was safe.”

The workers’ concerns were justified. White asbestos – or chrysotile – was found throughout the locomotives, in insulation around the exhaust and muffler system, around coolant pipes and in the brake exhaust section near the roof of the driver’s cabin.

Workers reassured despite dangers

Mr Nanva said workers were initially told there was nothing to worry about.

“They were assured on numerous occasions that there was nothing to be alarmed about, but on subsequent testing of that dust they have identified asbestos,” he said.

Last month, at a cost of more than $1 million, the locomotives were pulled from service.

Most were quarantined at SCT’s centre at Penfield in northern Adelaide, where professional asbestos removalists in protective suits and masks have been stripping the asbestos out of the trains.

The company’s subsidiary Specialised Bulk Rail says its first priority has been the safety of its staff, some of whom it concedes may have been at “some risk” when the asbestos-containing insulation blankets were “damaged or ripped”.

Mr Nanva says the workers would have been regularly at risk.

“These are maintenance workers that repair these trains day in, day out, and would have been exposed to these fibres day in, day out,” he said.

Chief executive of the Asbestos Safety & Eradication Agency Peter Tighe says it shows certifications from China are questionable.

“It’s another example, I think, of the lack of compliance in relation to certification from Asia, and more specifically China, that asbestos-free certification is really questionable out of those areas,” he said.

Asbestos ban broken before

This is not the first time China has broken the Australian ban on asbestos.

Last year more than 25,000 Chinese-made Great Wall, Chery and Geely cars were recalled after asbestos was discovered in their engine gaskets and brakes. 

In decades to come experts expect hundreds of thousands of Chinese casualties from asbestos.

A 1980s film by Szechuan University smuggled out from China shows the tragic story of China’s own Wittenoom – at Dayao, in the province of Yunnan – where asbestos exposures had led to the fatal cancer – mesothelioma.

Back in Australia, it was the same type of blue asbestos, from the Wittenoom mine, that lined Melbourne’s blue Harris trains, potentially poisoning passengers when the walls were broken.

So dangerous were the trains they were sealed in plastic and buried in quicksand at a quarry in Clayton.

Blue asbestos, which is more likely to cause the cancer mesothelioma, is now banned in both countries – but China is now the world’s largest user of white asbestos, which Perth’s asbestos expert Professor Bill Musk warns still causes cancer.

“The risk of lung cancer from white asbestos may be more than from blue asbestos given the same amount of exposure,” he said.

Growing cancer epidemic in China

Much of China’s white asbestos has been mined near Mongolia by prison labour.

Conditions there and in Chinese factories are extremely dusty and long-term studies of asbestos workers have revealed a growing cancer epidemic.

Mr Navna says asbestos is a “ticking time bomb”.

“The fact that you have family station wagons, trains, numerous components from China being imported into Australia without the requisite checks is a grave concern to us,” he said.

“It should be a great concern to Australian consumers.”

The giant state-owned China Southern Rail, exhibiting at this week’s AusRail conference in Sydney, said in a statement that asbestos was clearly excluded from the specifications for the locomotives. It blames a sub-contractor for supplying the asbestos and insisted it will not happen again.

But, CSR’s assistant general manager Li Huling said: “Although there was an explicit restriction in the use of asbestos, the interpretation of the definition of asbestos by our sub-contractor did not include chysotile [white asbestos] – as it was widely used in the world.”

Several cases of Chinese companies breaking asbestos ban

White asbestos use in Asia is expanding, and China is not the only country to break the Australian ban.

Recently asbestos was discovered in engine gaskets of two tugboats imported from Singapore in 2008 for use in the port of Fremantle.

Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers assistant federal secretary Martin Byrne says two tugboats that came to Australia had asbestos-free certificates.

“There were declarations by the shipyard that built the vessels that there was no asbestos-containing material at all in those vessels,” he said.

“When we started to work them and needed to repair them and started to have to take them apart, it was discovered that there were asbestos-containing materials.”

Like the train drivers’ union, Mr Byrne says the marine engineers institute has bitter experience from past exposures to asbestos of its tragic consequences.

“We get the phone calls. We have the members coming to us after they had the diagnosis from the doctor of mesothelioma,” he said.

“I know, personally, deep inside me, that as soon as the guy tells me that it’s a death sentence.”

Mr Nanva says he is now wondering whether Sydney’s new fleet of Waratah passenger trains – part of which were sourced from China – might also contain asbestos, something Transport for NSW says it is satisfied is not the case.

“We have no confidence that any component or train that is manufactured in China and imported into Australia is free of asbestos,” Mr Nanva said.

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Railway workers exposed to asbestos in Chinese-made trains