Hidden danger lurking in floodwaters amid east coast clean up

The Australian – Friday 1 April 2022

Thousands of residents across Queensland and NSW put their hands up to help clean up flood ravaged towns. Picture: Richard Walker

Australians living in flood affected areas have been warned of deadly asbestos inhalation following a major clean up along the east coast.

Asbestos Disease Support Service general manager Trevor Torrens told NCA NewsWire Queensland and NSW residents could be exposed to deadly material that can cause aggressive cancers such as mesothelioma.

“It’s dangerous for people obviously doing the clean-up and those in the vicinity because we know you can be exposed to mesothelioma, which is the worst asbestos disease,” he said.

“When you cut or sand materials in the walls of houses built or renovated before 1990, you’re exposed to breathing in fibres that are 200 times smaller than a human hair.”

Mr Torrens, who has been advocating awareness for more than 10 years, said there have been peaks in asbestos related diseases decades after natural disasters, including Cyclone Tracy and the 1974 Brisbane floods.

“We will see peaks from natural disasters in Queensland from Townsville to Bundaberg to the 2011 floods,” he said.

“We will not see the effects for decades; it takes decades to manifest the disease.”

The advocate said over 4000 people die from asbestos related diseases every year in Australia, 800 of which are diagnosed with mesothelioma.

“It [mesothelioma] is incurable and you will die from it; we know the average life expectancy once you’re diagnosed is 12 months. There is no cure, it’s all about treatment.”

Asbestosis occurs when fibres are inhaled and washed around the lungs causing scarring that progresses over time.

The cascading symptoms can include shortness of breath, chest tightness and wider than average fingertips and toes.

Asbestos products have been banned in Australia since 2003, making it illegal to make, use or import it from another country.

Those volunteering to clean up after last month‘s floods can protect themselves from potential asbestos exposure by calling certified asbestos removalists.

More information on how to clean up storm damaged asbestos can be found here.

Information on asbestos disease can be found here.

Flood victims are urged to contact authorities before drilling, cutting or sanding old houses built before 1990. Picture: Julian Andrews
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