Asbestos: not a thing of the past

Asbestos: not a thing of the past

Originally published in the Latrobe Valley Express The widespread presence of asbestos in the Latrobe Valley is well-known. It was in the power stations, our homes and our cars. It is easy to think that with building products no longer containing asbestos and industries using other insulation products that the asbestos problem is coming to an end - or has ended. The question is often asked asbestos - is that still around? And, sadly, it is. Some experts suggest that the rate of mesothelioma diagnoses (around 600 per year) is yet to peak and this will occur around 2020. Those who worked with the big asbestos manufacturers like James Hardie and others were among the first sufferers of asbestos diseases and called the first wave. Next, tradesmen and workers who used the products were the second wave of sufferers who have contracted asbestos related diseases. In recent times, the focus has been on the third wave - those home renovators who are unknowingly uncovering asbestos used in the building of homes from the 1950s to 1970s - or who are uncovering it but do not appreciate the risk their contact with asbestos creates. But a number of news stories has created concern about a fourth wave of potential sufferers - those who are exposed to new products coming into Australia without knowing they contain asbestos. Here are some examples:

  • In September 2015, we learned that asbestos had been found in children's crayons branded with Frozen and Mickey Mouse characters. The ACCC also confirmed that asbestos was found in some children's art crayons and Peppa Pig branded crayons. Despite asbestos being banned in Australia in 2003, this was not the first time asbestos imports have been allowed into Australia.
  • In 2012, Great Wall cars were imported from China and contained up to 29 asbestos gaskets.
  • Toy CSI Investigation kits contained asbestos in the finger-printing powder.
  • Toyota Australia has launched legal action in the Federal Court against distributors of counterfeit brakes pads containing asbestos. According to news reports, thousands of bogus brake pads that suit HiLux utes and Hiace vans sold from 2004 to 2015 have been imported into Australia. We understand that no recall can be issued because no manufacturer has put their name or brand on the products - the parts are sold online in what appears to be Toyota packaging for a quarter of the price of genuine brake pads - and they contain asbestos.
  • In early 2016, revelations that asbestos-containing products from Asian suppliers were being used in construction projects - like the type of product that so many Latrobe Valley fibro houses are made of.

But if people using those products, or the crayons, or the toy CSI kit, or the fake brakes get sick - what rights do they have? It will be really tough for these sufferers as finding out exactly who manufactured those products and trying to work out if a claim is possible, will be difficult. In a location 10 minutes from our Springvale office, broken asbestos sheets were found in a school playground in Box Hill North. The Box Hill Primary School arranged for the sheets to be tested which confirmed it was asbestos and the material was removed - after children had been found playing in and around the area. Sadly, asbestos is not a thing of the past. The risk continues to raise its head in all different ways. Who would have thought that our kids' crayons or school playgrounds would be linked to the word asbestos? Thankfully, we have dedicated organisations like GARDS who support sufferers but also play a very active role in educating us all on the ongoing threat posed by asbestos. As they say - there is no safe level of exposure. Having grown up in Traralgon and with family who worked at the power stations, the asbestos legacy in the Latrobe Valley is part of Bree Knoester's history. It's why we opened an office in Gippsland so that we could more easily help those who needed legal advice or support. Have you been affected by an asbestos related injury? Contact Bree Knoester on (03) 9321 9879 to book your obligation free appointment.

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