Natural disasters cause asbestos fibers to be released, leaving Australians vulnerable to asbestos-related disease, a scientific conference of cancer experts in Perth was told last week.
The country has been battling asbestos for long now. Mesothelioma accounts for more than 600 deaths annually. (There are nearly 3,000 mesothelioma-related deaths in the United States each year.)
According to the Australian government's National Health and Medical Research Council, when it comes to asbestos-related deaths, Australia and the United Kingdom share the highest rates in the world.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring yet toxic substance that is used in thousands of products and materials, such as piping, gaskets, drywall and insulation. Even though the material was banned in the country in 2003, its prevalence in buildings and products still pose a real and current threat.
Even the bonded asbestos is no more safe, it has been stressed. Bonded asbestos refers to raw asbestos bonded to another material, such as cement.
Chairman of the Asbestos Management Review, Geoff Fary, told the Clinical Oncological Society of Australia's Annual Scientific Meeting that many of the submissions claimed asbestos still posed a serious health risk through natural disasters and home renovations.
"The Asbestos Management Review is an initiative by the Australian Government in response to calls
for Australia to be asbestos-free by 2030," Mr Fary said. "We have consulted and had input from more than 60 stakeholders representing employment, health and research organisations, federal, state and local government, unions and asbestos disease sufferers and support groups.
"There was widespread consensus on the need to improve removal facilities, creating a consistent approach to removal and increasing public awareness."
Mr Fary said many submissions were concerned a predicted rise in natural disasters would result in many Australians being unwittingly exposed to asbestos, which could add to the already increasing rates of mesothelioma and lung cancer.
"Home renovations are another major issue. An option for the Review is to recommend anyone planning a renovation where asbestos is present to use a licensed asbestos remover."
Clinical Oncological Society of Australia President, Professor Bogda Koczwara, said more than 600 Australians died of mesothelioma each year and rates were increasing.
"This is a highly lethal cancer with very poor survival," Professor Koczwara said. "Yet many people don't realise they are exposing themselves to asbestos when they pull up their lino floors or recover relics from their flooded home.
"We need to be doing more to raise awareness and to remove asbestos, especially from areas prone to natural disasters like flooding, earthquake and bushfire."