Australia – the country that leads the world in asbestos-related deaths per capita – is also leading the way with a movement towards removing all asbestos from the country. Australia unions have created a wellness campaign known as, Speak Up for Health and Safety. The campaign is aimed at making Australia completely asbestos-free by the year 2030.
In order to achieve that goal, unions are calling for a National Asbestos Authority that will oversee the audit and removal of asbestos in existing structures and homes. The idea of the National Asbestos Authority was first presented in the summer of 2010 as a collaborative effort from the Cancer Council Australia, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union.
However, Ged Kearney, president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, is taking the opportunity to call attention to the matter again in light of the Australian Workers Memorial Day on Saturday, April 28. Ms. Kearney believes that the asbestos removal should be mandatory, and should start with government buildings and dump sites. Furthermore, the unions would prefer that all homes be inspected for asbestos prior to being leased or sold.
According to Kearney, “The cost of lives… cannot be measured in dollar terms. We must put resources into this and we must make absolutely sure we get Australia asbestos free.” Ms. Kearney says that she doesn’t have an estimation for how much a nationwide asbestos audit and abatement project will cost.
Asbestos in Australia
Between the 1950s and 1980s, Australia led the world in per capita asbestos usage. The substance was not banned in the country until 2004 – long after doctors, employers lawyers, manufacturers and legislators became aware of the toxic effects of asbestos inhalation and ingestion. By the year 2020, 18,000 more Australians are expected to die from asbestos-related diseases.
Asbestos is the sole cause of mesothelioma – an aggressive cancer that affects the mesothelial lining of the chest cavities, and occasionally areas of stomach or cardiovascular system. Although the effects of asbestos exposure are not medially evident, the toxic fibers can lie dormant in the body for several decades until they cause asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma. Currently, there is no cure for mesothelioma.