The challenges of Australia’s asbestos legacy have been outlined in a new report.

Experts say patterns of asbestos-related disease in Australia are coming towards a peak that is only now being observed.

“The update on asbestos in Australia is sobering,” says Dr Matthew Soeberg, an epidemiologist from the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute (ADRI).

“Despite Australia’s complete asbestos ban being in place since 2003, the figures show that the ban is only part of an unfinished story.

“Almost fifteen years later, Australia is only now seeing the peak of its asbestos-related disease epidemic from the ongoing risks of asbestos exposure.

“The Australian community needs to remain vigilant to the public health risk of asbestos exposure from existing asbestos or asbestos-containing materials.”

The institute’s new article is available in full here.

Its key findings include:

  • Despite a complete asbestos ban being in place since 2003, malignant and non-malignant asbestos-related diseases (ARDs) continue to be diagnosed in Australia
  • A total of 16,679 people were newly diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma between 1982 and 2016, with 84 per cent of cases occurring in men
  • Asbestos-related diseases also include non-malignant diseases such as asbestosis. Between July 1998 and June 2015, there were 2041 hospitalisations for asbestosis. This can be compared to 833 hospitalisations during the same period for respiratory conditions due to inhalation of chemicals, gases, fumes and vapours and 517 hospitalisations for silicosis.
  • Implementing a ban on the import or export of asbestos or asbestos-containing products will not lead to an immediate impact on the incidence of asbestos-related disease, these effects may take decades to become apparent.

“Australia has an important role to play in promoting public health efforts in Asia-Pacific countries that are still using asbestos and that are only now starting to see the health, social and economic impacts of asbestos use,” says Professor Ken Takahashi, ADRI director.

“The most effective way of reducing the global burden of asbestos-related diseases is through the implementation of asbestos bans and minimising occupational and non-occupational exposure to breathable asbestos fibres.”