The NSW government’s free asbestos testing scheme has identified a home in the Berrigan Shire Council area containing the hazardous material. It is the first property where investigators have discovered asbestos as part of the initiative.
However, it brings the number of homes fitted with loose-fill asbestos insulation in the state to 58. The other properties were identified before the government began offering tests in August last year.
Most of the affected dwellings are located in Queanbeyan, where 14 houses and a block of 38 units were found. Parramatta, Manly, Lithgow, Bungendore and the Yass Valley all have one confirmed property containing asbestos.
The deadly nature of asbestos has been known for some time, with the material causing hundreds of deaths due to lung diseases each year.
Safe Work Australia statistics show there were 1,394 asbestos-related hospitalisations between 1998-99 and 2009-10, approximately 97 per cent of which were men. The gender bias is due to asbestos exposure being more frequent in male-dominated industries, such as mining and construction.
One of the most common illnesses caused by asbestos is mesothelioma, which killed 674 people in 2007 alone. Asbestosis, another disease linked to the substance, caused 125 deaths in 2011.
NSW government action
The owners of the home containing asbestos identified during the NSW government testing scheme have been offered a free technical assessment by a specialist.
“[That will] advise them if the living spaces are well sealed, asbestos pathways are appropriately controlled, they can be within their premises,” the government said in a statement.
Dave Owens from the Loose Fill Asbestos Insulation Taskforce said the Berrigan property revelation could cause more people in the area to come forward for peace of mind.
The ABC quoted him as saying the homeowners of the affected house will soon be told whether or not they have to move. If they do need to vacate their home, they will be given up to $10,000 in temporary accommodation fees.
Juliet Duffy, a licensed asbestos assessor and occupational hygienist, said PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has estimated approximately 100 to 140 homes in the Riverina area could be fitted with the material.
“Based on population demographics in Wagga alone, this means up to 10,000 private dwellings could require inspection,” she explained.
PwC preliminary figures show more than 2,100 properties in the state could be fitted with asbestos, which far exceeds a previous Local Government NSW estimate of up to 316 homes.