By Angela Dorizas
New South Wales Ombudsman Bruce Barbour today called for a state-wide asbestos removal plan, commencing with government buildings.
Following a two-year investigation into asbestos-related issues, Mr Barbour released his report Responding to the asbestos problem: the need for significant reform in NSW.
Mr Barbour found that approaches to dealing with asbestos across whole of government were “disjointed, ad hoc and confusing”.
“In NSW there is no single government agency responsible for coordinating the management and containment of asbestos, there is no state-wide government plan for dealing with asbestos, there are gaps in asbestos legislation and funding to deal with these issues is inadequate,” he stated in the report.
Mr Barbour warned that there were no laws preventing home owners from undertaking renovation or demolition work without first checking for asbestos and there was “minimal” community awareness of the hazards of illegally dumping asbestos on public and private lands.
He warned that the number of asbestos-related deaths was likely to exceed the annual road toll in Australia.
“While 1014 people died from mesothelioma in NSW during the five year period between 2002 and 2006, it is estimated that by 2020 Australia will have 13,000 cases of mesothelioma, for which there is currently no known cure, and a further 40,000 cases of asbestos-related cancers,” Mr Barbour said.
He said the best response would be to introduce preventative measures, beginning with the public sector.
“One way of achieving long-term eradication of the risk of asbestos from our environment is to implement a priority removal program, commencing with NSW Government buildings,” he said.
“We acknowledge that the amount of asbestos remaining in NSW is immense; however the safe removal of asbestos is the only way of reducing the numbers of fatalities caused by asbestos-related diseases.
“The long-term removal of asbestos from buildings and remediation of sites contaminated by asbestos should be incorporated into a state-wide NSW asbestos plan as a priority.”
Mr Barbour recommended that a government funded Asbestos Coordination Authority be established; an Asbestos Act be introduced to facilities effective measures; the NSW Government develop a state-wide plan for dealing with asbestos; and adequate funding be allocated for implementing the state-wide asbestos plan.
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