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Australians heading to work, school and even their local hospitals now have to pass asbestos-contaminated sites.
Concerns have been growing about people falling ill from asbestos-ridden mulch, which has now been detected at more than 50 sites across New South Wales.
More than 5 million people live in Sydney and asbestos has been detected in the topsoil of schools, hospitals and parks stretching from the CBD to Emu Plains at the foot of the Blue Mountains, and from Parramatta to Campbelltown.
The material was first discovered on January 10 at the new Rozelle Parklands playground in Sydney’s inner west.
Since then, the city’s trees and garden beds have been sealed with “possible asbestos” notices.
A construction site at Westmead Children’s Hospital, Bicentennial Park, in Glebe, and the Oran Park fire station are the latest sites to return positive results.
Daily Mail Australia has compiled a list of all the questions you may have in your mind to help you overcome the widespread fear of asbestos.
Concerns have grown about people falling ill from asbestos-ridden mulch, which has now been detected at more than 50 sites across New South Wales (pictured, cordoned off areas on a Sydney footpath)
Should residents be worried?
Professor Sonja Klebe, from Flinders University’s School of Medicine and Public Health, said while most Australians likely already have some level of asbestos in their lungs from older homes and buildings, the risk of getting sick is very low.
Homes and buildings built before the 1990s are likely to be riddled with asbestos, while one in three Australian homes still contains the substance today, according to the government’s Asbestos and Silica Safety and Eradication Agency. .
‘We all have a level of exposure to the fund. “What happens is if you get anything above that, the risk increases,” Ms Klebe told Daily Mail Australia.
“If the asbestos is not disturbed, the risk is very low.”
What should residents do if they have been exposed?
Ms Klebe urged anyone who has recently passed potential asbestos sites in NSW to “not panic” as it was unlikely anyone could become ill from that level of exposure.
Instead, people should record any potential contacts in the National Asbestos Exposure Registry, which allows them to track any related illnesses.
The first symptoms of asbestos exposure do not appear until after 30 years, Klebe added.
Ms Klebe urged anyone who has recently passed potential asbestos sites in NSW to “not panic” as it was unlikely anyone could become ill from that level of exposure (pictured, Victoria Park ).
“That’s one of the reasons it’s been so difficult to track what people are exposed to,” he said.
The professor also noted that there was some risk with children who may unknowingly be playing in contaminated mulch.
“The risk of getting sick is proportional to the type of fiber and we do not know what type it is,” he said.
“Exposure at earlier ages in life is thought to be more significant given that, on average, it takes 30 years before symptoms manifest.”
The total number of sites testing positive across the state has risen to 54 as of Thursday, according to the latest data from the New South Wales Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
What are the symptoms?
Those who have been exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos may begin to show signs of difficulty breathing and chest pain.
An x-ray will then show a buildup of fluid in the lung.
Those who suffer from lung cancer related to asbestos exposure have an average of one year to live.
Nearly a dozen trees on Abercrombie Street in Chippendale (pictured) were taped shut on Wednesday over fears the mulch underneath could contain asbestos.
New South Wales Premier Chris Minns said the crisis is a “big problem” and emphasized the seriousness of the incident.
“The EPA is investigating it, it’s a serious crime and the fines are up to $2 million,” he told reporters Thursday.
However, he assured the community that the contamination, while concerning, is not a major health issue due to the bonded nature of the fibers, which makes them less likely to become airborne.
“This is bound asbestos, it’s not safe and we don’t want it in our community, but the risk is not as serious as if you had asbestos fiber in your backyard.”
Will asbestos be a long-term problem in Australia?
Klebe said it was not at all unusual for such an outbreak to occur in current times.
“It’s not going away,” he said.
“This is a problem we are going to have in the future.”
Professor Sonja Klebe, from Flinders University’s School of Medicine and Public Health, said asbestos would be a future problem for Australia.
Klebe said authorities should measure the air to check for asbestos levels.
“You wouldn’t want it in a playground, but if it’s just on the ground and not bothered, it will probably have little effect,” he said.
“The chances of getting sick are extremely small, we don’t want people to panic, but we are going to have a big problem for a long time.”
Nearly 800 locations in New South Wales have been tested for the deadly substance.
The New South Wales government has claimed the GreenLife Resource Recovery Fund was the source of the asbestos crisis.
The company’s Bringelly site, in Sydney’s southwest, received four cleanup notices issued by the EPA after multiple incidents of asbestos contamination before it owned the site.
Greenlife CEO Domenic Vitocco insists his company is not to blame, telling Daily Mail Australia last week that it has been “scapegoated” by the state government.
‘All EPA tests have come back clean from our backyard. “Our tests have come back clear and we are a little baffled as to how this is all happening,” he said.
“During the investigation, I can’t really say too much, but what I do know is that several of these sites are important remediation sites… but I can’t comment further.”