Workers in Australia's Gwydir Shire may be at risk of developing mesothelioma or asbestosis, considering the Asbestos Disease Foundation of Australia (ADFA) is investigating poor handling practices of the carcinogenic mineral.
The group is urging WorkCover and the Environment Protection Authority of New South Wales to conduct further investigations to protect the workers.
Barry Robson, president of ADFA, recently went to Warialda to speak with locals about the danger of asbestos, where he learned there have been several instances of exposure. This visit led to several allegations the group has officially brought forth against the city council.
The first is that all handling and abatement of asbestos performed by Gwydir Shire Council went against established health and safety regulations. The group also says workers and residents have been living in close proximity to asbestos, as it was used in cement water pipes that construction crews improperly cut into.
Asbestos isn't a serious danger until it becomes airborne. However, when construction workers don't take the proper precautions during projects, it's easy for the fibrous mineral to be swept into the air.
"After visiting Warialda, and talking first-hand to residents and former council staff, there is no question in my mind that there needs to be an urgent investigation into the practices of Gwydir Shire Council," Mr Robson said.
"I was told of council workers using angle grinders to cut asbestos cement water pipes in suburban streets, all without any safety equipment or any warnings for local residents."
Asbestosis claims could be on the docket
Mr Robson went on to say that there were serious problems with illegal dumping of asbestos. In some instances, the fibre was even thrown over fences of private establishments. He stated there were also "extremely worrying stories" of large asbestos sheets going missing, despite regulations that require contractors to document all asbestos removal.
"I have personally contacted senior WorkCover staff to urge an immediate investigation into these concerning reports, and to ensure that workers and the community are not being further exposed to asbestos," he said.
The group stated that the way the shire has handled asbestos has been "completely unacceptable". In these circumstances, those who have been exposed to asbestos often file asbestosis claims through lawyers who have experience in such matters. These can lead to compensation for any suffering a victim or victim's family experiences.