Warning: Asbestos kills 4,000 Australians every year

Australians have been warned to watch out for asbestos as the fiber kills more Australians than car accidents each year.

The federal government estimates that 4,000 Australians die each year from asbestos-related diseases, nearly four times the annual road toll.

There are also warnings ahead of Asbestos Awareness Week, which begins November 21, that thousands of tons of the deadly mineral are being dumped illegally, putting the community at risk of exposure.

It is estimated that 6,000 tons of asbestos is dumped illegally each year, at a cost of about $11.2 million to treat, according to a new survey.

The Asbestos Elimination Agency found that more than a third of home improvements who encountered asbestos in a renovation or DIY project admitted to illegal or hazardous disposal, the most common method being in their own trash or at a neighbor’s house.

Improper disposal is something that can expose Australians to deadly fibers, according to Justin Ross, chief executive of the Asbestos Safety and Elimination Agency.

“Asbestos causes cancer and if not properly disposed of, it puts workers and the health of the community at risk. It is an issue with serious and far-reaching consequences, costing taxpayers millions each year in environmental and long-term health costs,” said Ms. Ross.

With asbestos found in one in three homes, those considering renovation should have a plan for what to do if they encounter it.

“The people most at risk of exposure are those who work in older buildings and infrastructure where asbestos-containing materials are present,” said Ms. Ross.

“However, asbestos can also be found in unexpected places such as the home garden, garage, or storage areas.”

Those who find asbestos in their home or garden are urged to contact a professional to have it removed for them due to the risks to their health.

“It’s easier, safer, and often cheaper to get a professional to do the job for you. It usually includes the cost of legally disposing of asbestos waste along with the cost of removal,” recommends Asbestos Safety.

Australians can also find a licensed asbestos remover on the WorkSafe or SafeWork website for their state or territory.

Those who find asbestos in their home or garden must dispose of it at a licensed facility, which can be found on the Asbestos Safety website.

It is a crime to dump asbestos illegally, with heavy fines imposed on those caught, including those who throw it on the sidewalk or step over bins.

Alternatives include calling a licensed facility, staging a delivery time, wrapping it in builders’ plastic, sealing it, and dropping it off.

“Disposing of it responsibly, no matter how small the amount, is the right thing to do,” said Ross.

Originally published as Asbestos warning 4,000 Australians are killed each year

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