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Asbestos Overview

Asbestos can still be found in 1 in 3 Australian homes and every year in Australia there are an estimated 4,000 deaths from past exposure to asbestos (ASEA)

Asbestos In Australia

A naturally occurring mineral, before its ban in December 2003, Australia was one of the highest users of asbestos.

Known as the Miracle Mineral of the Middle Ages, it is cheap, strong, fireproof, soundproof, an excellent insulator… so versatile, it was used in over 3000 products across industries in Australia.

What wasn’t made known until the mid-80’s is that asbestos is a carcinogen and causes disease such as asbestosis, lung cancer, pleural plaques and the terminal cancer, mesothelioma.

Reflections is actively REDUCING THE IMPACT of asbestos on the community and bringing HOPE to those affected, through:

  • Awareness raising
  • Promoting research into better treatment outcomes, and
  • Supporting people affected by asbestos-related disease

We achieve this through a range of activities including advocacy for improved asbestos awareness training; the ongoing sharing of resources and information, particularly for home renovators in Australia’s growing DIY culture, and events such as Steeltoes & Stilettos.

With the average age of first exposure being 23, Reflections is proactive in ensuring young people, particularly those going into the trades, are empowered to make educated decisions when it comes to working on sites where asbestos may be present. Reflections’ determination and persistence has resulted in the inclusion of an asbestos awareness module into the Cert II in Pathways to Building and Construction.

Western Australia is fortunate to have some of the world’s leading experts in asbestos disease research based at the National Centre for Asbestos Related Disease (NCARD). While they work on finding a long-term treatment for mesothelioma, we need to be doing what we can to ensure people are not exposed to asbestos.

“Through my work, both as a building designer and with Reflections, I hear and see all too often the ignorance and lack of awareness around asbestos. Many people believe it is a thing of the past, that we are no longer at risk or that it takes long-term exposure. I was in that category until Dad’s diagnosis, and I can assure you, mesothelioma is not a word you want to have to learn.”

Jo Morris, Co-founder and Director

What Is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring, fibrous mineral. Due to its excellent durability, fire resistance, insulating properties and affordability, asbestos was widely used in building materials and other products in Australia until it was fazed out in the mid 1980’s and totally banned in December 2003.

A known carcinogen, exposure to asbestos can increase your risk of developing an asbestos-related disease including asbestosis, diffuse plural fibrosis, lung cancer and the terminal cancer, mesothelioma.

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Mining of asbestos began in Australia in the 1940s and continued until the mid 1980s. An estimated 1.5 million tonnes was also imported between 1930 and 1983. Any building or infrastructure built or renovated throughout this time is likely to have asbestos material in some form.

Asbestos was used in over 3000 products across the building, industrial, commercial, manufacturing and automotive industries.

Prior to its ban in 2003, Australia was one of the highest users of asbestos in the world.

Asbestos products and material are relatively harmless as long as they are in good repair and left undisturbed. It becomes dangerous when products containing asbestos are not properly maintained or removed with care.

You can not tell if a material contains asbestos simply by looking at it. Safe removal of asbestos can be a complicated process and should be left to experts.

There is no known safe level of asbestos exposure. Asbestos fibers can cause life-threatening health conditions if you breath them in.

Asbestos-containing materials are categorised into two groups:

  • Friable

    A material that can be flaky, easily crumbled or reduced to powder, such as insulation. This type is extremely hazardous as the asbestos fibres can be easily released into the air and inhaled.
    Sourced from Asbestos Safety and Eradication Industry

  • Non-friable

    A product containing asbestos that has been mixed with other materials, such as cement. It can be hazardous if disturbed, damaged or deteriorating, as asbestos fibres may get released into the air.
    Sourced from Asbestos Safety and Eradication Industry

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In the past, asbestos exposure was mostly an occupational problem. These days the people at most risk are home renovators and the next generation of tradies.

Reflections, in partnership with the Perth building and construction industry, is actively increasing awareness through events such as Steeltoes & Stilettos along with advocacy for improved training for people entering industries where asbestos was used. With the age of first exposure being 23 years of age, training and education for those most at risk is essential.

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