Department of Health

Advice from the Chief Health Officer on cancer cluster claims

19/10/14
Published by Department of Health & Human Services

Schools cleared, GPs alerted over possible cancer cluster

Victoria's acting Chief Health Officer has provided urgent advice today about a possible cancer cluster in Sunshine North near a contaminated former asbestos plant.

The acting Chief Health Officer Dr Michael Ackland has alerted General Practitioners in the Sunshine area so they can discuss any concerns their patients may have.

“Any resident who has concerns about their health should see their GP,” Dr Ackland said.

“The alert is among a number of actions that have already been taken by the Department of Health, other Government agencies and Brimbank Council in response to community concerns about a possible cancer cluster.

“Contractors from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development have already carried out air quality monitoring at ten government schools in the vicinity of the site in McIntyre Road.

“The test results found there were no detectable levels of airborne asbestos. More schools will be tested during next week.

“In addition, the Department has asked the Victorian Cancer Registry to conduct an analysis of the data on cancer-related diseases in the area with a focus on mesothelioma.

“My strong advice to residents in the area is that they should not enter their roof cavities in order to avoid exposure to asbestos.

“An expert advisory group has also been appointed to provide the Department with high quality, independent scientific and technical advice,” Dr Ackland said.

The expert a group chaired by Department of Health Chief Clinical Advisor for Cancer Professor Bob Thomas has already met and will analyse the material from the review of cancer data held by the Cancer Registry.

The former mill site is registered by the Environment Protection Authority as a priority site, which means it requires ongoing management.

The EPA has advised that the site has been completely capped and sealed and the buildings on the site decontaminated.
Asbestos was a common building material in Australian homes built from the 1940s into the 1980s. As a result, it is not uncommon to find asbestos in the roof cavities of older homes in Australia.

Dr Ackland said asbestos in roof cavities does not generally pose a health risk unless disturbed and inhaled.

“Generally the most common exposure in the home is contact with weathered and deteriorated asbestos or the removal of or drilling, sawing or sanding of asbestos containing building material. Appropriate protection must be taken when handling asbestos. The Victorian government’s asbestos website provides advice for householders about handling asbestos".

Any person concerned about their health should seek advice from their GP. Anyone who was living in this area in the 40s, 50s, 60s or 70s may wish to talk to their GP to discuss their possible exposure to asbestos.

“Sadly there is a long time between exposure to asbestos and when a cancer may be diagnosed.

“People in Sunshine North should go about their daily activities as normal," Dr Ackland said.

Factual information about asbestos in the home can be found at Better Health Channel - Asbestos in the home.

Reviewed 19 October 2014

Health.vic

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Bram Alexander Department of Health Media Unit

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