Is Asbestos Still A Problem In Australia?



Though the use of asbestos has been banned in Australia still it is a persisting problem for its residents. The residents of Australia are still at risk of mesothelioma because of the presence of asbestos in the old commercial and residential buildings constructed across the nation. It becomes more dangerous when an old building constructed before the ban of asbestos use is demolished for remodeling or renovations. People come in contact with asbestos at these locations and suffer from health issues like mesothelioma etc.

According to reports, after the UK, Australia is in the second position in the rate of deaths due to mesothelioma throughout the world. The exposure to asbestos causes rare cancer known as mesothelioma. According to experts, since the early 1980s, over 10,000 people succumbed to this disease in entire Australia and almost 25,000 people can die due to this disease in the next 3-4 decades.


The effect of asbestos on public health can be understood more clearly through the press release of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the report of Safe Work Australia discussed here under.



Asbestos as it looks in its natural form





On 28 Aug 2019, in a report released to media it has been declared by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare that in 2018, 699 Australians died due to the aggressiveness of Mesothelioma cancer. It was mainly due to their exposure to asbestos. The report further said that in 2018, 662 new cases of mesothelioma aging from 22 years to 101 years have been diagnosed.


Mr. Justin Harvey, the spokesperson of AIHW said that every year hundreds of Australians are diagnosed with mesothelioma regardless of using all types of bans on the use of asbestos since 2004. He further said that mesothelioma takes place in the protective lining of mesothelium on the outside of internal organs and inside the cavities of the body. In most cases, a forecast of mesothelioma is poor due to its aggressive nature.


The Australian Mesothelioma Registry managed by AIHW has recorded 699 deaths form 2018 due to mesothelioma on 1st May this year.


According to Mr. Harvey, due to continuously receiving more notifications by the registry the number of mesothelioma deaths and diagnosed cases recorded in 2018 can increase in near future. He further said that the average age of male Australians diagnosed with mesothelioma is nearly 75 years. They were exposed to asbestos in a non-occupational or occupational environment but after their diagnosis, they lived for nearly 11 months only.


During the years 2015-2018, the rate of age-based mesothelioma cases varied from 4.4 to 1.1 cases per 100,000 people in Western Australia and Tasmania respectively.


Since July 2010 almost 1,000 people, who participated voluntarily in an assessment survey on asbestos exposure, were diagnosed with mesothelioma.


Mr. Harvey said that 93% of the participants were assessed to have the possibility of being exposed to asbestos. Information about the probability of occupational exposure was provided by 79% of men and the possibility of non-occupational exposure was provided by 99% of women participants.


During 1970-79, the consumption of asbestos in Australia was at its peak with 700,000 metric tonnes. The asbestos used in the construction industry was mined as well as imported due to its resistance to chemicals and fire as well as durability.


In Australia, the use and import of asbestos and products containing asbestos have been prohibited since 2003 still a lot of asbestos remain in the buildings built before this ban.


Another shot of this amazing, yet dangerous substance




On 7th August 2020, Safe Work Australia has published a report on occupational lung diseases in Australia 2006-2019. This report has identified the occupations and industries in Australia where workers can be at risk of exposure to asbestos, like the use of engineered stone and in mining, quarrying and construction industries, etc.


Several trends are also highlighted in this report like:

* A considerable increase in Pneumoconiosis in coal workers and Silicosis in workers working with engineered stone
* An increase in understanding the risk of development of pneumoconiosis in coal workers and the role of occupational exposure to asbestos
* A reduction in the claims of worker’s compensation for occupational lung diseases related to asbestos, like asbestosis, etc.
* A reduction in work-related cases of asthma as confirmed by a lesser number of claims for compensation


This report on Occupational lung diseases in Australia 2006–2019 has revealed that occupational diseases in the lung is a persistent health issue in Australia and significantly add to the number of cases of lung diseases.


This report has also informed about the implementation of the work plan of Safe Work Australia as well as the policy of the nation to focus on the lung diseases related to occupation.




The number of incidences of mesothelioma in Austria is high due to the extensive use of asbestos in the country in the past. According to the reports submitted by experts, the per capita rate of use of asbestos was highest from the 1950s to 1970s all over the world.


The exposure to asbestos in trades and the incidences of mesothelioma are monitored by the Australian Mesothelioma Register. According to them, mining of asbestos and dust-producing jobs like sanding, sawing, grinding, drilling, and handling of materials containing asbestos are the occupations with the highest risk of exposure. The jobs of power plant workers, boiler workers, naval workers, carpenters, and railway workers are also at high risk.


According to the Australian National Dataset of Compensation Based Statistics, the workers including electricians, carpenters, plumbers, power plant workers, telecom workers, and metal workers have filed most of the compensation claims between 2005 and 2008.




According to various studies, Australians involved in various trades including carpentry, construction, insulation, electrical engineering, and shipbuilding are at the most risk of development of mesothelioma.


MINING: Certain parts of Australia are hubs of asbestos mining. In Wittenoom, a town of Western Australia was the hub of mining blue asbestos, crocidolite, asbestos of the most toxic type, from the 1930s to 1966, when it was turned off. In the late 1970s, Australia started to control the use of asbestos products. In 1967, the use of blue asbestos, crocidolite, was prohibited but until the mid-1980s, the use of brown asbestos, amosite, continued. However, at the end of 2003, after 20 years the use of white asbestos, chrysolite, was finally banned in Australia.


The government of Australia was asked to clean up Wittenoom in February 2019, by the local elders living in Karijini National Park. The rate of mortality due to mesothelioma was the highest in the world among the native families living in this area. The asbestos waste was disposed of by erosion and rain into the Fortescue River through the creeks. According to the government, the work on this complicated problem of providing confidence to the community is in progress. They will also discuss things with the related people as well as communities in this regard.


In the Woodsreef, near the Barraba Township in New South Wales, white asbestos, chrysolite, was also mined until it was banned in the 1980s by its operators. But at the site of mining, almost 25 million tons of waste asbestos in the form of visible fibers remained there and even after 25 years, the risk of exposure to asbestos continued in this area.


CONSTRUCTION: Asbestos was used in various industries including textile mills and construction companies in one of the other forms. It was in use in certain industries even when many countries have banned its use. For instance, up to the 1980s the use of brown asbestos, amosite, continued in making products like the board of cement. Actually, asbestos was used until December 2003 in Australia in making gasket products and friction materials.


MANUFACTURING: James Hardie Industries was a manufacturing company that led the asbestos market in Australia during the 20th century. Along with producing a wide variety of insulation and building products they were also involved in the mining asbestos and distribution of asbestos and asbestos-containing products. This company also owned asbestos mines in Zimbabwe and Canada along with Australia.


Though the executives of this company were aware of the risks linked with mining of asbestos and exposure to its fibers in the air still they never alerted the workers in their plants and mines about these risks. The waste asbestos from the plants of this industry was distributed to be used in driveways, paths in parks, and playgrounds across Australia. The waste containing asbestos was also used for making bags to carry vegetables and fruits. In this way, the exposure to the asbestos in the mines and plants of James Hardie has made immense damage to the people living in Australia.




The governing body of the nation, Safe Work Australia, supervises the appropriate handling of asbestos at the place of work. The laws for the management of asbestos in workplaces have been set by the Work Health and Safety Regulations act of Australia. These laws include:

* Removal of asbestos
* Handling of asbestos occurring naturally
* The requirement of license for abatement professionals


On the control and management of asbestos in the workplace, Safe Work Australia has created a Code of Practice to protect the workers from exposure to asbestos at the workplace and guide them to respond to the threat of asbestos exposure.