Asbestos Clean-up Starts in NT Community

Australia—A remote Aboriginal community is undergoing asbestos clean-up, more than a month after it was reported that children had been using the cancer-causing material as chalk.

Asbestos is a well known carcinogen which, once inhaled, becomes inescapable after lodging in the bodily organs’ outer linings. Exposure leads to various asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma, a rare but very aggressive form of cancer that may not show symptoms until decades later.

Intervention workers first raised concerns last May of a widespread asbestos contamination in bush communities.

The government had ordered a survey of the Northern Territory’s 73 Aboriginal communities, and 62 of them were found to have asbestos “in varying conditions.”

Approximately a year later, those communities classified as “high-risk” asbestos have been subject to abatement.

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin issued a statement on Friday that the Areyoga community, southwest of Alice Springs, would be added to the list.

This clean-up seems a little too late to the residents who live in the contaminated areas, especially since it came after a month of knowing that the children had been using the asbestos to draw pictures on the ground.

“Because of our remoteness, you know, we can be ignored,” resident Craig Woods said. “If this situation happened in a main city like Canberra, Sydney or Melbourne, this problem would have been dealt with within 24 hours. The government knows about this problem and yet they’re not dealing with it.”

Macklin, in a joint statement with federal Labor MP for Lingiari, Warren Snowdon, said, “The government was advised that although it was important to remove the material as soon as practical, left undisturbed it did not pose an immediate health risk,” said Ms.

“High-risk” asbestos abatement has already begun in Kalkarindji, Gunbalunya and Galiwinku, while the government reports that it has been advised to clean up the other 50 communities with evidence of asbestos within the next year.

“The government understands community concern about asbestos and associated health risks,” Ms. Macklin said. “Asbestos is the legacy of numerous building programs conducted in the NT over many years.”