The popularity of home renovation reality shows like The Block and The Renovators has encouraged more Australians to undertake their own renovations putting them at risk of deadly diseases caused by exposure to asbestos fibres, according to Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia (ADFA).
The ADFA is warning of a third wave of victims and their families as part of Asbestos Awareness Week, which is running with the slogan: “Don’t play Renovation Roulette!”
The first wave was those working in mining and manufacturing exposed to raw fibres followed by workers who used asbestos products in the workplace (the second wave).
According to the ADFA, the case of women suffering from mesothelioma (an incurable asbestos-related cancer), are rising with the ADFA expecting these to spike over the next 40 years unless “Australians start taking seriously the dangers of asbestos when renovating or maintaining their homes”.
“With DIY renovations increasing partly due to the popularity of home renovation and lifestyle television programs and magazines, those thinking about renovating or home maintenance must visit asbestosawareness.com.au to learn where asbestos can be found in the home and how best to manage it,” says professor Nico van Zandwijk, director of ADFA.
The ADFA believes reality renovation shows have a moral obligation to include "substantial warnings” about asbestos for viewers and claims they have let viewers down by not having warnings.
Viewers of hit series The Block were warned by presenter Scott Cam of the dangers of asbestos in this video.
“Asbestos is an absolute killer and if you're thinking of renovating, make sure you get your place checked out by professionals," Cam said "If you do find something, make sure those professionals remove it."
Channel 10’s The Renovators did not appear to have any prominent asbestos warnings on its website.
The ADFA’s asbestos concerns have been echoed by Archicentre, the building design, inspection and advice service of The Australian Institute of Architects, which is also warning of the deadly dangers of lead paint
David Hallett, from Archicentre said the real risk of exposure to asbestos fibres and dust occurs with the demolition, drilling or cutting of products containing asbestos and in the case of lead paint the burning, sanding or stripping of paint can produce dangerous toxins.
"Tens of thousands of renovations take place every year often with families living in the home during the renovation placing people at danger unless the renovation is carried out safely,” says Hallett.
"It is vital for everyone to understand that once you disturb asbestos there are extreme health risks involved for home owners and their families in relation to the diseases which can be caused by asbestos fibres."
"Anyone undertaking renovations and living in their home at the same time with their children needs to be well informed about the dangers and extremely careful about how asbestos and lead paint is managed by contractors who may be carrying out the renovation works."
Inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause serious illnesses including malignant lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis
Most homes built in Australian between 1945 and 1987 would have been constructed using asbestos as insulation in the roof.
A complete ban on asbestos-containing material in Australia was introduced in 1991.
According to the ADFA, if asbestos is left undisturbed, it generally does not pose a health risk.
However a study of mesothelioma cases carried out by Western Australian Mesothelioma Register (from 1960 to 2008) showed that over a four year period (2005 and 2008), 8.4% of all men and 35.7% of all women diagnosed with mesothelioma were home renovators with renovations and maintenance being the main cause of the disease in women.
The study also noted that the most prevalent non-occupational exposure of people occurred during simple home renovations, with mesothelioma patients reporting having drilled or sanded asbestos cement walls, lifted linoleum floors and used asbestos cement sheeting to build sheds and fences, laundries and simple extensions, often with exposure limited to a single activity.