On the Street Where you Live
A documentary first broadcast on Australian radio on October 21, 2007, detailed the ubiquity of asbestos on a typical residential street in Fremantle, Western Australia (WA).1 Properties built in the 1940s and 1950s contain numerous examples of asbestos-containing cladding, insulation, roofing and fencing panels. On the whole, homeowners questioned by local resident and radio producer Mia Lindgren were ignorant of the presence of asbestos and the severity of the problem it posed.
The lack of regulation of domestic asbestos exposures in WA was contrasted with strict government regulation of workplace exposures. People engaged in renovating their homes, tradesmen working on contaminated properties and people living in them run the risk of contracting asbestos-related diseases from these exposures. Such was the case of Ellen Barns, who as a child sanded down asbestos panels used by her father to construct a veranda. Diagnosed with mesothelioma at the age of 56 in September 2006, Ellen was horrified that people were unaware of the killer material in their homes. She died of mesothelioma in 2007.
With much of Australia's housing stock now 50 or more years old and with the current housing shortage, many homeowners are anxious to modernize their properties. One woman interviewed confirmed that when she first moved into her home she scraped down the walls prior to painting, thinking they were plasterboard. A neighbour, Mandy Miller, was amazed when asbestos expert Bruce Hogan informed her that her brick-and-tile house contained asbestos. After Mr. Hogan identified multiple examples of asbestos in her home, she rang the local council but was fobbed off by a council employee who knew nothing about asbestos. Ms. Miller condemned the government's lack of action and the sense of complacency that persisted, describing it as an echoing silence.
October 29, 2007
1 Living with Asbestos The Third Wave. Broadcast October 21 & 28, 2007