Bill's Media Releases

Asbestos still a killer

Householders and workers in Maribyrnong are being urged to think about their risk of asbestos exposure during Asbestos Awareness Week, which runs from 26 to 30 November.

The Federal Member for  Maribyrnong and Minister for Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten, said he is concerned that people living in Melbourne’s West may be exposed to asbestos lying dormant in homes and buildings, when undertaking  renovations.

“We know that asbestos is a silent killer that waits for many, many years to reveal itself,” Mr Shorten said.

“As the Minister in charge of the national response to asbestos, it deeply concerns me that my own constituents in Brimbank, Maribyrnong and Moonee Valley might not be aware of the ongoing dangers.

Asbestos is  found not only  in old fibre cement sheeting,  but eaves, fake brick cladding, water heaters, garden sheds, roofing and behind tiling.

“It’s estimated that asbestos is in 1 in 3 Australian homes on average.

“Asbestos was used widely as a building material from 1921 through to 1987, but it wasn’t completely banned until 2003. Any homes built or renovated during that period may contain asbestos.

“Given the large number of older homes in Melbourne’s West,  there’s a high chance that asbestos products have been used somewhere in those buildings at some period in the past.

“That material is safe so long as it isn’t disturbed, but if it is cut, sanded or exposed to the environment, it will pose a danger to your long term health and that of your family.”

Mr Shorten said that it’s wrong to believe that the worst is over in terms of asbestos deaths.

“The reality is that asbestos-related deaths are not expected to peak until 2020, and that tragically, we are expecting another 30-40,000 people to be diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases in the next 20 years.”

Mr Shorten said that earlier this year he released the brochure “Identifying Asbestos in Your Home”, with the help of Mitre 10 and the producers of The Block.

The brochure may be found at

If in any doubt about whether your home may contain any asbestos containing materials, contact a professional asbestos auditor or removalist before undertaking any DIY work.

In August, the Minister also released the Federal Government’s Asbestos Management Review, an 18 month investigation which made a series of recommendations for a National Asbestos Management Strategy.

Key recommendations include measures to:

  • Identify asbestos in public buildings and  workplaces constructed prior to 2004, and in homes constructed prior to 1987

  • Establish a national asbestos location database

  • Developing a system of staged removal of asbestos from government and commercial buildings by 2030 and examine feasibility of extending prioritised removal to homes

  • Nationally consistent standards so that asbestos removal may only be undertaken by licensed operators

  • Review the adequacy of existing infrastructure to cater for current and future asbestos disposal requirements

  • Incentivise safe disposal of asbestos waste

  • Establish a new national body devoted to asbestos safety, and a website consolidating asbestos information, and

  • Continue to pursue a worldwide ban of asbestos.

In response, the Minister set up an Office of Asbestos Safety, which is consulting with State and Local Governments to develop a National Strategic Plan by July 1 next year.

“Our aim over the long term is to have, for the first time, a co-ordinated national approach to handling asbestos, to minimise and eventually remove the risk entirely,” Mr Shorten said.

“But that will be a mammoth task that can’t happen overnight, so we need householders and tradesmen to keep being vigilant and to keep in mind that the risk from asbestos remains while we work towards making our built environment safer.”

Asbestos-related diseases

Inhaled asbestos fibres are capable of inducing chronic inflammation of the lung tissue around them, and may cause a number of diseases.

  • Pleural disease – Asbestos may cause inflammation of the membranes (pleura) that line the lungs and chest cavities. The pleura may stiffen and thicken widely (diffuse thickening) or in patches (plaques), and space between the pleura may fill with fluid. These conditions restrict breathing.

  • Asbestosis – This is scarring of the lungs. The airways and lung tissue become so inflamed and scarred that it becomes hard for oxygen to pass from the lungs into the blood. The lungs become stiff and inelastic, making breathing progressively more difficult. Symptoms include tightness in the chest, dry cough, and in the later stages, a bluish tinge to the skin caused by lack of oxygen. Death from asbestos is usually associated with heart failure. The disease is usually seen in former by lack of oxygen. Death from asbestosis is usually associated with heart failure. The disease is usually seen in former asbestos miners, asbestos manufacturing workers and insulation workers, and may take a decade or more to develop.

  • Lung cancer – Exposure to asbestos fibres greatly increases a person’s risk of developing lung cancer, particularly if they are also a smoker.

  • Mesothelioma – This disease is incurable and invariably fatal. It is a cancer originating in the mesothelium, and found in the chest and abdominal cavities. It typically grows quickly and spreads widely before symptoms appear, making its early diagnosis and effective treatment very difficult.