Damaged Homes in Australia Pose Asbestos Hazard

Recent floods in the Australian town of Mackay, Queensland, were described as “ticking asbestos time bombs” by a local contractor. Don Pitt is the general manager of Queensland Building Maintenance in Brisbane, about 320 miles south of Mackay. His firm has served the state government of Queensland as an independent auditor in the identification of asbestos, which historically has been a major problem throughout Australia. According to Pitt, virtually all homes constructed prior to 1985 contain asbestos materials. Pitt is now concerned that, due to the sheer magnitude of the problem, local officials will be tempted to “cut corners” in seeking solutions for the situation, and went so far as to contact the local newspaper, the Daily Mercury, so as to issue a plea to his colleagues in the profession to be vigilant in following government regulations pertaining to asbestos removal and disposal. He told a reporter that “…there are contractors who are either not aware of the legislation or don’t care …they’re a danger to themselves and the occupants of homes.”

Australian law prohibits the removal of amounts of asbestos in excess of 10 square metres (about 30 square feet). The problem according to Pitt is that a lot of the material being removed in Mackay consists of amounts far greater than that. Nearly 1,000 miles (as the bird flies) away in the Melbourne suburb of Moreland in the state of Victoria, the asbestos problem has become so bad that the local government has had to issue warnings to residents who have been illegally dumping asbestos waste in nearby parks and “bushy areas” (called “green spaces” in the U.S.).

Kevin Burgess, who is a director for the city of Moreland, reminded residents that “…asbestos is a dangerous and hazardous material and it is an offence to dispose of it in household garbage or hard-waste collection.” Dealing with asbestos anywhere in the world is an expensive proposition, and because the substance is so toxic, safe disposal can be problematic. Nonetheless, regardless of cost asbestos should be handled only by trained experts. A Melbourne-area asbestos contractor summed it up this way: “You’re better off being safe than getting sick.” Indeed…the costs of professional asbestos removal services are a bargain compared to the costs of fines–or cancer treatment.