The installation of digital satellite television systems in Australia has been suspended in parts of the country after numerous complaints that asbestos was being spread in the process, exposing bystanders to the deadly fibers.
Contractors were inadvertently dislodging asbestos as they drilled in the roofs and walls of homes in which they were being installed.
The exposure to asbestos, in even the smallest amounts, can lead to mesothelioma cancer.
Australia is in the process of switching from analog to digital television.
As part of the switchover program, the federal government had authorized the Satellite Subsidy Scheme, which had completed installations in 5,149 households in Victoria, South Australia and Queensland.
After the recent suspension of the program, the federal government has hired the consultancy firm KPMG to review procedures.
“The federal government regrets that procedures in place to secure approval for installations…from state government bodies were inadequate in this instance,” a spokesperson for Communications Minister Stephen Conroy told The Australian. “The Scheme has been temporarily suspended…to ensure that existing standards required of the lead contractors satisfy all state government asbestos requirements.”
Australian Government Questions Claims
The Australian reported that the Queensland Department of Public Works had contacted other departments to look for potential asbestos problems.
The problems came to light when a teacher for the Queensland Education Department complained when installers arrived at her home without her approval.
However, Lyall Johnson, a spokesperson for the minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy said the “teacher reporting an unauthorized installation has not been confirmed and is increasingly looking unlikely to be correct.”
The government had begun rolling out the program on a state-by-state basis. Victoria and South Australia already have been completed. Contractors Skybridge and TechLife, a subsidiary of Hills Industries, have been doing the bulk of the installations. Utilizing 119 approved installers.
Much of the installations in Queensland had been in government-owned homes. Installations were being done without prior approval, which contributed to the complaints.
A spokesperson for the Queensland Education Department said it had “the most stringent asbestos management policies and procedures in place in Australia.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story said that digital upgrades in Australia were being performed in schools and businesses. They are being performed on homes.