It seems that no matter which way we turn these days, asbestos is rearing its ugly head. And sadly, this worrisome problem is not going to go away any time soon.
Due to its long history in Australia, asbestos can be found almost anywhere, and a great majority of us have been co-existing with asbestos for all of our life.
We have lived in asbestos homes, attended school in asbestos classrooms and even stood nearby while our fathers cut into asbestos sheeting for the backyard fence.
Tragically, we were not aware of danger back then, and many people have lost their lives because of it. Records show that up to 3,500 Australians die from asbestos disease each year, and this number is predicted to rise until 2020, when estimates suggest that 40,000 Australians will have died of asbestos-related disease.
This is far higher than the number of Australian soldiers who were killed in World War II.
Reflecting on these figures, we could well say that we have another war on our hands: a world war against asbestos. It’s a formidable foe, who fights dirty and takes no prisoners, killing thousands of people in Australia and around the world.
Many buildings and homes made of asbestos are still standing, and it would be impossible to eradicate them all. To make things worse, the lethal nature of asbestos does not diminish with age; it can be left untouched for decades and when disturbed be just as deadly as it was when it was first mined.
The same goes for asbestos sheeting. No matter how long it has been in place, it immediately becomes deadly as soon as any damage to it allows for asbestos fibers to be released into the air.
Asbestos is a silent killer, stealing into the lungs of the unsuspecting, and there is no way of knowing who has been exposed to the deadly fibers.
Asbestos sheets, can be damaged by extreme weather, natural disasters like floods and fire, and through home renovations and vandalism.
A recent spate of illegal dumping of waste containing asbestos has swept across the streets of Sydney.
The Herald Sun recently featured a story exposing Dib Abdallah Hanna, who was charged with dumping 80 tons of waste found to contain asbestos in Bankstown, New South Wales.
This was not the first time that Hanna had put people’s lives at risk, according to the report. Previous to this, four illegal dumpings had earned him a hefty $130,000 fine.
The Herald Sun reports that Bankstown Mayor Khal Asfour is determined to jail this serial dumping cowboy, making his the first case to test strong new laws aimed at putting serial dumpers behind bars.
In another disturbing case in Sydney, deadly asbestos waste was dumped on two roads, only feet from a child care center.
An article in The Telegraph states that deadly asbestos sheets were found lying in the middle of the road on Wilson Avenue and Wilson Lane, just off Canterbury Road.
The Telegraph reports that asbestos removal contractors were called in to remove the material by hand, as it was deemed too dangerous to remove it by machinery.
During this operation, the entrances to both of the roads were closed as firefighters hosed down the sheets and then covered it with sheets of plastic to keep it from becoming airborne.
It is hard to believe that anyone could be so callous as to blatantly ignore the laws that are in place to protect the people, but this is what we are dealing with on an ever-increasing level in Australia and in other countries, including America.
A recent article released by the U.S. Department of Justice discloses a shocking case of callous disregard for the health and safety of others. The press release states that two individuals — Cross Nicastro and Dominick Mazza — and a company, Mazza & Sons Inc., were sentenced in the federal court in Utica, N.Y., for “conspiring to violate the Clean Water Act, Superfund statute, and to defraud the Unites States by illegally dumping thousands of tons of asbestos-contaminated construction debris on a 28-acre piece of property on the Mohawk River in upstate New York.”
Sadly, there will be many stories to tell about asbestos and of those unscrupulous lowlifes who increase our risk of exposure to it.
Many of us will never see the end of asbestos-related disease, but this does not take away our responsibility to safeguard the children of the future.
The strongest weapon we can use against asbestos is awareness. We all need to make it our business to find out what is going on around us, and to do something about it.
(If you answered YES to any of these questions, there may be an immediate risk to your health and to the health of your family.)
In Australia, contact the Environmental Protection Authority.
Environmental agencies have the authority and the expertise to remove asbestos in a safe and controlled way.
Together, we can make a difference.