The Guardian November 27, 2002


ASBESTOS: Important information

Health Hazard

Because they are so small, asbestos fibres can easily penetrate body 
tissue.

Their indestructibility means the body's natural defences cannot break them 
down. Their presence can lead to scarring of the lung (asbestosis) and a 
variety of fatal cancers.

No-one knows exactly how many deaths have been caused by asbestos because 
it is often misdiagnosed. Its effects can take up to 40 years to become 
apparent.

Who is At Risk?

Any exposure (even trivial and remote in time) must be considered 
potentially harmful.

Asbestos use has been very wide-spread e.g., insulation, roofing, walls and 
fences, brake linings, pipes, textiles, floor tiles, paints, cement, 
plastics, gaskets and many others.

Persons who work directly or in-directly with these products must consider 
themselves at risk.

Anyone whose job or house is located near an asbestos work areas must 
consider himself or herself at risk. Anyone who brings asbestos dust home 
on his or her clothes or boots must consider the family at risk.

Children: "The risk of (fatal) Mesothelioma is very much higher when 
exposure occurs early in life"... USA Health and Safety Commission.

How great is the risk?

There is no minimum safe level of exposure.

Risk increases with increased exposure. The risks of asbestos are well 
known. People who have been exposed to it in the past may develop problems 
in the future. There is no necessity for new exposure to take place.

What can you do?

Occupational exposure: when working with asbestos follow proper safety 
procedures as laid down by government and enforced by union bodies and have 
regular medical checkups.

Stop Smoking: research shows that asbestos workers who smoke are 90 times 
more likely to develop lung cancer than workers who don't smoke.

Be alert for warning signs: shortness of breath, persistent coughing, large 
rapid weight loss, chest or abdominal pain, blood in the sputum.

Protect yourself and your family

Avoid exposure to asbestos fibres

All asbestos is potentially dangerous.

It should either be professional sealed through permanent encapsulation and 
enclosure or removed.

Occupational exposure to asbestos

It would be safe to say the number of asbestos related illnesses is under-
estimated.

Any industrial process that causes a worker or his or her family to be 
exposed to any foreign substance in a form which enables it to gain entry 
into the body should be regarded as potentially hazardous.

No-one should be required to work with any chemicals that can be inhaled, 
ingested or absorbed into the body.

Many such work practice would be challenged through the relevant 
Occupational health and Safety Act.

The number of people with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related lung 
cancer is expected to increase to 53,000 by the 2020.

Mesothelioma is a horrendous disease which could be avoided with proper 
education and enforcement of correct occupational health and safety 
practices.

For further information and advice, contact your Trade Union.

* * *
Acknowledgements to the Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia for the above material. Ella Sweeny may be contacted at the Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia at: Email Ella Sweeny at esweeney@pnc.com.au Phone (02) 9637 8759 or 0414 893 826 Fax (02) 9897 3259 There are also statutory bodies such as workers' compensation and dust disease boards, and support groups around Australia.

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