Department of Health

Asbestos checks for sites in Sunshine North

26/10/14
Published by Department of Health & Human Services

The Victorian Government has announced an asbestos testing program has been rolled out at a number of sites near a former asbestos factory.

Victoria’s acting Chief Health Officer Professor Michael Ackland said an independent environmental hygienist, overseen by the Environment Protection Authority, will test the sites to ascertain possible levels of asbestos in roof spaces, the soil and air in living areas.

Prof Ackland said the testing program has been recommended by the Expert Advisory Group appointed by the Department to investigate cancer cases possibly associated with the former factory site in Sunshine North.

“Results of the testing will be made available to the Expert Advisory Group and the Department for further analysis.”

In addition, the EPA has advised the Health Department that it is re-testing the 10 homes that were reported last week to be linked with asbestos.

Prof Ackland said an initial report from the Victorian Cancer Registry on mesothelioma cases within a two kilometre radius of the former Wunderlich factory site confirmed a small increase in the number of cases over what would normally be expected.

Given the long history of manufacturing asbestos products at the site - the Expert Advisory Group has recommended further statistical and epidemiological analysis.

“We still need to establish how many of the mesothelioma cases were former workers at the factory and whether any are community members without a direct link to the factory,” Prof Ackland said.

Within a two kilometre radius of the site there were 16 cases of mesothelioma for the 12-year period from 2001 to 2013.

Prof Ackland said none of these cases relate to recent exposure to asbestos - with exposure most likely to be related to the time when the factory was operating prior to the 1980s.

“Any case of mesothelioma is a tragedy and at this time we acknowledge the concerns many in the community may have about this issue.

“So the Victorian Government will hold an Open House on Thursday October 30 at Victoria University Convention Centre, Ballarat Road, Sunshine.

Community members are welcome to attend any time between 4pm to 7pm.

The meeting will update residents and provide them with an opportunity to raise any further issues with Department of Health, EPA and Brimbank Council officials.

“But anyone with concerns about their health should see their GP,” Prof Ackland said.

“And to avoid potential exposure to asbestos people should not enter their roof space.”

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

The EPA has advised that in the mid 1980s the site was completely capped and sealed and the buildings on the site decontaminated.

Asbestos was used in common building material in Australian homes built from the 1940s into the 1980s. As a result, it is possible to find asbestos cement products and possible asbestos in the roof spaces of older homes in Australia.

Prof Ackland said asbestos in roof spaces did 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 materials.

Appropriate precautions, including wearing personal protection must be taken when handling any asbestos-containing product. The Victorian government’s asbestos website provides advice for householders about handling asbestos.

Reviewed 26 October 2014

Health.vic

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Bram Alexander Department of Health Media Unit

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