BUILDING materials laced with lethal asbestos are landing in our homes and building sites, as Chinese companies flout Australia’s ban.
Australian Border Force identified a staggering 8643 shipments as “high risk” for asbestos during 2016-17, but only examined 761 — leaving 90 per cent to slip through to building sites, hardware stores and supermarkets. It seized 64 shipments of asbestos-contaminated goods — including children’s crayons, four types of building products and car parts, brake pads and vintage vehicles.
And the federal government’s Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency has warned the seizures are just “the tip of the iceberg” of dangerous products that could be reaching Australian homes.
Agency chief executive Peter Tighe said some Chinese manufacturers and importers were lying to Border Force, builders and retailers.
“The certification documents from China really don’t hold any water,” Mr Tighe told The Saturday Telegraph. “The problem is if a product comes out of China, and China still mines asbestos, you’re going to see a degree of contamination. In cement board, they still use asbestos in the mix. If we don’t control this, we’ll end up with a second legacy of asbestos — and we won’t know where it is.”
He warned renovators to get asbestos checks of any tiles or building products bought online from China through websites such as Alibaba. China does not recognise chrysotile as a form of asbestos so some manufacturers declare items containing the mineral to be “asbestos-free”, in breach of Australia’s 14-year ban.
Frozen jumbo crayons were recalled in 2015 because they contained asbestos.
Australian Border Force Assistant Commissioner Jim Williams said the results of increased targeting and testing “don’t indicate a widespread problem with asbestos-contaminated building products entering the country”.
However, Mr Tighe said “no one’s really had a kick in the backside” for flouting the asbestos ban. “I know it’s sexy to catch drug smugglers and tobacco smugglers but this is just as important … asbestos can cause deaths too,” he said. “This could be the tip of the iceberg, what we’re finding. How much are we missing? Products are definitely coming in here. Who wants their kids chewing on a crayon that might have asbestos?”
Border Force has detected arsenic in imported children’s crayons in the past 12 months — two years after a national recall of contaminated crayons. Two brands of quad bikes had to be recalled in recent weeks after illegal asbestos was found in brake parts.
Asbestos has been found in the wiring of the Sydney Opera House but the company conducting the renovations on the iconic building denies the union has imposed a work ban.
The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) said 25 workers involved in the $200 million renovation had been exposed to asbestos fibres while working in a service duct.
But Border Force issued only 20 fines in the past year. Three were paid by Chinese building products giant Yuanda, which supplied asbestos-tainted roof panels to the $1.2 billion children’s hospital in Perth and contaminated gaskets to the Queensland government’s $650 million “tower of power” executive building.
Border Force refused to say how much Yuanda was fined but the maximum penalty is a paltry $15,750 per offence.
SETTING SIGHTS ON SAFETY
SYDNEY chippie Mark Cook takes no chances if he spots asbestos on a building site.
“If I suspect anything I’ll get it tested,” Mr Cook said yesterday. “There was lining on one job I got replaced because it was asbestos.”
Mr Cook, of M2 Carpentry, said he tried to source Australian-made products but assumed that all new building materials were asbestos-free.
“Asbestos is banned in Australia so I’m sure it’s got to meet regulations.”
Brian Seidler of the Master Builders Association of NSW said builders should not be expected to spot asbestos in modern building panels and tiles certified as safe. He said Border Force should do more checks on shipments, and importers made to pay the cost of removing any asbestos that slips through the net.
He said a problem for tradies was homeowners asking them to install building materials bought online from China.