Asbestos risks in bushfire communities prompt new health warning

Asbestos risks in bushfire communities prompt new health warning

Residents of bushfire-ravaged Batlow, in south-west NSW, where at least one resident has died, have been warned that the risk isn’t over yet.

Currently, there is limited access to power, water, fuel, communications services and food, and there are significant restrictions to travel.

As some residents are able to return home, NSW Fire and Rescue have issued a warning that asbestos will likely pose a threat after the widespread damage to property and infrastructure in the area.

Most homes built before 1987, which is a significant portion of the fire-affected area, are likely to contain asbestos.

SafeWork NSW has reissued its recommendations about safely approaching property and buildings after a fire.

“Asbestos dust and fibres have the potential to present a health risk during and after a fire if not properly managed. Asbestos fibres may be present in the dust and ash and may pose a risk to those disturbing the dust and ash if inhaled while searching for their lost belongings.”

“Depending on the extent of the fire damage, the asbestos present can be classified as either friable or non-friable. Asbestos sheets that are severely damaged or reduced to ash are likely to be friable whereas asbestos that is intact or has suffered smoke damage is likely to be classified as non-friable.”

The following precautionary measures are recommended during the clean up of fire-damaged buildings containing asbestos:

  • confirmation from emergency services, utilities companies or local council that it is safe to enter your property
  • warning signs erected to discourage people from entering the site
  • avoid unnecessary entry, particularly entry by children
  • a site assessment to identify asbestos undertaken by a licensed asbestos assessor or occupational hygienist In some cases, emergency services may undertake this role in an emergency situation
  • asbestos debris should be kept wet or sprayed with PVA, or a similar sealant, to suppress the release of fibre until the material is safely removed. Do not use high pressure sprays
  • access to the immediate site must be limited to those involved in the cleanup. They are required to wear appropriate personal protective equipment (including a suitable type P2 respirator and disposable coveralls). All personal protective equipment must be disposed of as asbestos waste once the clean up is complete
  • asbestos clean up and removal by a licensed asbestos removalist
  • asbestos waste, including fibro, should be disposed of as soon as possible. The materials should be kept damp until they can be double wrapped in heavy-duty (0.2mm) plastic, sealed with tape and labelled as asbestos waste
  • asbestos waste can only be accepted at some landfill facilities. Contact your local council or the NSW Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to find your nearest lawful waste facility and to learn more about the notification and packaging of asbestos

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