As if victims of New South Wales' recent bushfires needed any more to worry about on their plates, construction officials are warning residents that dozens of homes have been found to have mesothelioma-causing asbestos in their walls.
So far, cleanup crews have uncovered 48 homes that contain the carcinogenic material, which has been proven to cause serious health problems like asbestosis and the lung cancer mesothelioma. Officials have analysed 235 homes so far, and 175 of these are being studied further.
NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Phil Koperberg told ABC radio that construction companies used asbestos for decades, so it's not uncommon to find houses made with the fibre. Mr Koperberg stated that any house built before 1987 is "more likely than not" to have at least some asbestos in it.
If the team finds asbestos in any home, it will be properly marked with a sign outside. For those who have already returned to their homes, it may be wise for them to leave until the house can be properly assessed.
"We're asking people who have been (to burnt out homes) not to go back until we've settled the sites down," Koperberg added.
Warnings of mesothelioma from several groups
Peter Dunphy, director for WorkCover operations, stated that anyone living in the Blue Mountains area, as well as all emergency workers who are assisting with the cleanup, needs to be cautious when around fire-devastated areas.
When asbestos exposure is linked to fire damage, sometimes the related illnesses won't develop for decades.
"The last thing we want is (for them) to be the next lot of people who end up with asbestos-related diseases," Mr Dunphy said.
Anyone who may be performing their own home renovations has also been urged to take extreme caution. It's best for professionals who are trained in asbestos abatement to handle all renovations if the threat of exposure is present.
NSW Treasurer Mike Baird said the state will spend $1.2 million to ensure the Blue Mountains asbestos cleanup goes as successfully as possible.
Officials are urging residents not to panic, though. While asbestos exposure is certainly dangerous, the experts said it is an "exponential type of event" and that the risk of illness grows with the amount of exposure.
Those who may have been exposed to the deadly fibre may want to contact an asbestos lawyer to learn what legal options are available.