Senate Inquiry Urges Crackdown on Asbestos Imports

“Mums and dads need to know if they are giving their children asbestos crayons to chew on.”

asbestos removal Tougher penalties, mandatory due-diligence systems, and a special Border Force unit – these are just some of changes the Australian government are considering in order to crackdown on illegal asbestos entering the country.

The Federal Senate Economics References Committee has handed down its interim report, in which it makes 26 recommendations to curb the threat of imported asbestos products. The committee heard that despite an all encompassing ban on asbestos in Australia since 2003, the deadly material continues to find its way into the country, mostly from China.

In the six months between July 2016 and January 2017, more than 4,600 consignments were identified as being high-risk. Of the 290 tested, nine were found to contain asbestos.

Queensland senator Chris Ketter said these findings were only the tip of the iceberg. “It’s not just building products – asbestos has been found in jewellery and even children’s toys, including crayons.” Mr. Ketter also said a much greater onus needed to be placed on importers. “There has to be a fear of prosecutions and penalties.’’

Worryingly, the most common form of asbestos – chrysotile – is not even categorised as asbestos in China. The report calls for Australia to push for an international ban, and for provisions to be included in free trade agreements.

Key recommendations include:

• Special due-diligence systems and recall insurance become mandatory for importers of high-risk products

• Increase maximum fines and prioritise the prosecution of illegal asbestos importation cases.

• Importers of asbestos-containing materials to bear the cost of removal.

• mandate and fund asbestos awareness training for a “wide range of occupations” in construction

The creation of a specialist unit within Australian Border Force to manage illegal asbestos importation.

• Importers of asbestos materials to bear the cost of removal and disposal. 

The report also recommends that all states and territories introduce chain of responsibility laws for the building and construction industry, similar to those currently in place for the transport industry (see related article).

Asbestos in Australia

The commonplace use of asbestos as a building material in the 1950s and ’60s has left Australia with the world’s highest rate of asbestos-related diseases. More than 10,000 people have already died and another 15,000 fatalities are expected over the next 40 years.

Asbestos becomes a health risk when its fibres are released into the air and breathed in. Breathing it in can cause asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma – with symptoms usually occurring 20 to 30 years after initial exposure. Removing asbestos is a dangerous procedure and anyone who removes it is required to be appropriately trained and to hold the relevant license.

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