Asbestos-free Australia by 2030?
A report released today (August 16, 2012) could signal a substantially reduced incidence of asbestos-related diseases in Australia. Achieving such a reduction would have a great resonance in a country which has been subjected to a veritable asbestos plague: more Australians have died of asbestos-related diseases than were killed in the First World War.1 In 2010, 642 people died from just one type of asbestos cancer: mesothelioma. When deaths from asbestos-related cancers of the lung, ovary and larynx, asbestosis and other respiratory diseases are factored into the equation, it is likely that more Australians die every year from asbestos-related diseases than are killed in road traffic accidents (1,352 deaths in 2010). Responding to public anxiety, the Labour Government has pledged to make every effort to drastically reduce the death toll from such diseases; particularly, by ensuring that new exposure to asbestos is eliminated.
On October 29, 2010, the Government commissioned an Asbestos Management Review (the Review) to delineate what needed to be done to make Australians safe from the asbestos hazard. An Advisory Group set was up to undertake this project and was asked to recommend measures to: publicize the asbestos hazard, prevent the import and export of asbestos-contaminated goods, ensure that safe procedures are used for the removal, handling, storage and disposal of asbestos waste, audit and publicize the presence of in-situ asbestos, collect data and report the occurrence of asbestos-related disease. The results of their efforts can be seen in the 81-page, twelve-chapter Review today (August 16, 2012) tabled in Parliament by Workplace Minister Bill Shorten.2 The chapter titles of the Review indicate the range of aspects considered by the Advisory Group:
In the speech made today by the Minister to Parliament, he said: Every Australian who goes to work should return home safely Just as in the workplace, Australians of course deserve to be safe once they are at home too. These rights, he pointed out, are compromised by the pervasive presence of asbestos within the national infrastructure. Pledging the Labor Government's commitment to the campaign to make Australia asbestos-free by 2030, the Minister highlighted recommendations of the Review, including the need for political leadership of work to develop a National Strategic Plan (Plan) for Asbestos Awareness and Management and central government backing for the establishment of an Australian Agency tasked with the development, implementation, review and monitoring of the Plan. Specific recommendations in the Review call for:
Welcoming the Review, the Australian Council of Trade Unions reiterated its call for action to get rid of the carcinogen. We are pleased the panel has agreed with calls made by Australian unions during the review, including a plan to make Australia an asbestos-free nation and put an end to the tragic deaths that continue each year as a result of contact with the carcinogen.4
Australia's ongoing asbestos emergency has been underlined this month by the news of illegal asbestos imports from China. In an exposé run by the Sydney Morning Herald on August 14, it was reported that 23,000+ Chinese cars contaminated with asbestos-containing engine parts and gaskets had been brought into the country by Ateco Automotive Pty. Ltd; on August 16 it was announced that these cars were being recalled. The story has exploded worldwide with queries over the asbestos contents of the same model cars exported to the U.S., UK, Brazil and elsewhere.5 It is hoped that prompt attention to this problem will protect Australians from this source of exposure but there is no such hope for the thousands of people who were exposed to crocidolite asbestos when they lived in the Wittenoom mining town. A paper published last week in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine entitled: All-Cause Mortality and Cancer Incidence among Adults Exposed to Blue Asbestos during Childhood, was categorical: Exposure to blue asbestos in childhood is associated with an increased risk of cancer and mortality in adults.6 There remains much to be done in Australia to make the country safe from asbestos. Whilst applauding the goodwill and fine words of Minister Shorten, it is time for the political rhetoric to be translated into action!
August 16, 2012
5 Hagon T. Chinese car asbestos scare. August 14, 2012.
Chinese Cars Recalled in Australia for Asbestos. Wall Street Journal Blog. August 16, 2012.
6 Reid A, Franklin P, et al. All-Cause Mortality and Cancer Incidence among Adults Exposed to Blue Asbestos during Childhood. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ajim.22103/abstract