Asbestos Awareness month in November is about more than about addressing the terrible legacy of this widespread, toxic material.
Formerly used in construction in Australia, up until 2003, harmful impacts from asbestos continue in western Sydney communities. Illegal dumping, home renovation and increasing incidents of related diseases are all part of a complex problem that continues to affect the region.
It's a little-known fact that asbestos is not limited to fibro houses from the 1940's and 50's. In fact, the material can be found in any Australian home built before 1987 - including brick, weatherboard, fibro and clad homes.
Asbestos is notoriously difficult to dispose of, and illegal dumping presents a significant challenge to western Sydney councils, who bear the brunt of clean-up costs, to the tune of millions of dollars every year.
During the region's first growth boom in the post-war years, asbestos products were used to quickly construct homes across western Sydney, with almost one-third of buildings clad in asbestos fibro sheeting by the 1980's. The material was regarded as an excellent option in construction: cheap, with great sound and heat insulation properties, strong and fire-resistant.
If left undisturbed, asbestos poses minimal risk. However, as those buildings age - and our zeal for home-renovation increases - exposure to dangerous asbestos building materials continues to occur.
Although asbestos use is now banned in Australia, health problems such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma are increasing. Sadly, a report to the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency in 2017 predicted 19,427 cases of mesothelioma to be diagnosed in Australia between 2015 and 2100.
Western Sydney councils place a high importance on the safe disposal of asbestos. It must be removed by a licenced asbestos removalist. If you are renovating, be sure of what materials you are disturbing in your home. Consult a specialist and contact your council to find out what services are available and the correct avenues for handling asbestos disposal in your area.
The Asbestos Answers website, established by Cumberland City Council, contains a large amount of helpful information and answers to common asbestos-related questions.