Answering your questions about asbestos in Sunshine North 18 MARCH 2015

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1 Answering your questions about asbestos in Sunshine North 18 MARCH 2015 The Victorian Government is aware of community concerns about asbestos in and around the old Wunderlich factory site that was located at 47 McIntyre Rd, Sunshine North and which closed in Concerns relate to past production of asbestos products at the factory and current reports of asbestos materials in the area, including in dumped rubbish and in dust in roof spaces. The Department of Health and Human Services, Environment Protection Authority (EPA) and Brimbank City Council have met with the community at several local events to discuss these concerns. Newsletter No. 5 has just been released to the community and is available on the Brimbank City Council website. Translated versions in Vietnamese and Chinese are also available. If you have any concerns about asbestos in your home, contact Brimbank Council for information and advice on ABOUT ASBESTOS What is asbestos? Asbestos is a mineral which was mined and imported into Australia. There are three general types that are commonly known as blue, brown or white asbestos. Asbestos fibres were frequently used to make building materials including fencing and roofing because it was strong and heat resistant. Asbestos is most frequently found in a bonded form such as in asbestos cement (AC) sheeting where the fibres are tightly bound in the material and are not normally released into the air. There are also friable (crumbly) asbestos products which are generally soft and loose and can be easily crushed to release high levels of asbestos fibres into the air. Examples are asbestos rope gaskets in wood stoves and pipe lagging. Bonded asbestos may become friable if damaged or badly weathered. As a general rule, if your house was built: before the mid-1980s - it is highly likely that it has asbestos containing products between mid-1980s and it is likely to contain asbestos products after it is unlikely to contain asbestos products.

2 Is asbestos dangerous? Asbestos only poses a risk to your health when asbestos fibres are small enough to be breathed deeply into your lungs (of a respirable size). When in good condition, bonded asbestos products do not normally release any asbestos fibres into the air. However cutting, drilling, sanding or grinding will release fibres which may be of a small enough size that can be breathed deeply into the lungs. We are all exposed to very low levels of asbestos in the air we breathe every day and this very low background level of exposure is regarded as a negligible risk to health. Most people are also exposed to higher levels of asbestos at some time in their lives and for most people this kind of infrequent exposure is also unlikely to result in any illness. When respirable asbestos fibres are breathed in, they may remain deep within the lungs and cause inflammation, scarring and some more serious asbestos-related diseases (mesothelioma or lung cancer), which usually take many years or decades to develop. Although there is no absolutely safe level of exposure to asbestos fibres, occasional exposure to low levels of fibres poses only a low risk to your health. For further information about asbestos visit ASBESTOS IN THE ENVIRONMENT Where is the asbestos in the Sunshine North area? Asbestos cement sheeting was a common building product and is likely to be present in a high proportion of houses in the area. It was used as a building material in eaves, backing for false brick cladding and as roofing and walls for outdoor sheds and garages. On 12 October 2014, the Herald Sun reported that asbestos had been found in the roof spaces of some homes in Sunshine North. The EPA completed testing on six of those homes and found no detectable levels of asbestos in living areas or soils. While asbestos was found in five roof spaces, it was in very small concentrations and the fibres were not of a respirable size. Concerns were also raised about dumped asbestos in the area and asbestos being dug up by rabbits from the previously capped Wunderlich factory site. EPA has addressed short term remediation and fencing issues and is requiring longer term improvements in the management of this site through remedial notices. Is the air being tested in Sunshine North? Yes, the outside air has been tested by the EPA. The results of the testing of the air, both in the Wunderlich site and in the surrounding area were below detection limits, which means that any fibres that may be present are extremely low and would be similar to those expected in the background environment. What has happened to the asbestos found behind the Westend Markets (Gilmour Road rail reserve)? VicTrack, who is responsible for the land, has cleaned up the illegally dumped waste on the western side of the rail lines. EPA also issued statutory notices requiring VicTrack and Westend Market Hotel to survey the extent of contamination and ensure any exposed material was safely disposed of and the site sealed. Page 2

3 HISTORY OF THE WUNDERLICH SITE Asbestos building materials were produced at the Wunderlich factory site in Sunshine North from 1925 up until the end of The current occupier of the Wunderlich factory site is Westend Market Hotel Pty Ltd. Part of the site is leased to Pickles Auctions as an overflow car park, and a further area is currently planned for further development. Westend Market Hotel Pty Ltd has responsibilities under the Site Management Plan to do regular inspections, independent annual audits and other reporting requirements to the EPA. Has the community been exposed to asbestos since the factory s closure? When the site closed in 1982, it was decided to bury and cap remaining asbestos at the site as it provided the lowest risk of asbestos exposure to the community. This work was completed between 1983 and The capping has contained the on-site asbestos since it was installed, however in the early 1990s some asbestos came to the surface around the boundary and required additional work to cover it. The current landowner has to do a monthly walk through of the property to make sure no asbestos is visible. If it is, it must be cleaned up immediately. The landowner must also report back to the EPA and to have an annual inspection by an independent Occupational Hygienist. EPA officers also inspect the site periodically to ensure compliance. Have the site operators been meeting EPA s standards around managing risks on the site? Since closure of the Wunderlich factory site in 1982, the EPA has had ongoing involvement on the site. There have been an infrequent number of minor issues that have resulted in the surfacing of small amounts of buried asbestos. EPA along with other regulators are now working with the site and surrounding businesses to put more sustainable solutions in place. What is EPA doing with the site now? EPA has required the occupiers of sites that back onto the rail corridor to improve the management of any waste asbestos. Remedial notices have been issued requiring monthly assessments for any visible asbestos and boundary air monitoring for asbestos. A number of these sites have also been required to seal sections of their site not previously sealed. The current owner of the former Wunderlich site was required to ensure the land at the rear of the premises had improvements in rabbit control to ensure no further asbestos was brought to the surface. Damaged fences along the rail corridor have been fixed and signs put in place to warn the community of possible contact with asbestos and ensure that the land is not disturbed. EPA regularly checks the performance of these medium term measures while putting into place measures that will improve the long term management of the sites. HOME TESTING PROGRAM What does the home testing program involve? The Department of Health and Human Services and the EPA are investigating whether there are elevated levels of asbestos fibres in local roof spaces, soil and indoor air and if so, whether they pose a health risk to the community. The home testing program includes 50 homes within 3 km of the factory site. Homes have been selected based on age, roof type, location and the willingness of the owner to participate. Samples of settled roof space dust, soil and air (from two living areas) are being collected from each home and analysed for asbestos. Air samples collected from living spaces are analysed using highly sensitive Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM), which allows the detection of asbestos in the air at levels very close to background (i.e. the levels we breathe in every day). These samples are being sent to the USA for analysis. Page 3

4 Where is the home testing program up to? So far, a sample of 38 homes within a 3 km radius from the former Wunderlich Factory site have been specifically selected and tested. This is in addition to the six homes that were originally tested by the Herald Sun and retested by the EPA. The results to date indicate a very low risk to householders. The results are communicated individually to residents involved in the program and were made available in a de-identified manner at the Open House on 10 December The privacy and confidentiality of all residents is respected throughout the process. What are the specific results from the home testing program and what do they mean? Results have been very reassuring so far. Air testing in living spaces has shown that levels of asbestos fibres were so low they were below detection limits which means that any fibres that may be present are extremely low and would be similar to those expected in the background environment. To date roof space testing of dust has found very low concentrations of asbestos in seven of the 38 homes in the testing program. This asbestos is made up of fibres in bundles that are not of a respirable size (not small enough to be breathed deeply into your lungs). Asbestos was not detected in the dust in roof spaces in the remaining homes. Soil testing has detected some asbestos in very low levels in some properties. The levels seen are not unexpected for older urban properties, especially where asbestos building materials are used. All these results are consistent with asbestos sources from within homes where asbestos-containing materials have been used. Some examples include AC sheeting in eaves, roofing or cladding and asbestos in flues in roofs. Five of the six homes originally tested by the Herald Sun and retested by the EPA were found to have very low levels of asbestos in the dust from their roof spaces. No detectable levels of asbestos were found in the indoor air testing and soil testing from these homes. What are the next steps for testing? Thirty-eight of the 50 homes have been tested with the last 12 homes to be completed by the end of March. Once collected, these remaining samples will be analysed including using the highly sensitive TEM analysis conducted in the USA. All results will then be compiled in a report which will be prepared by the expert consultants undertaking the testing program. The consultant s report will then be presented to the Department of Health and Human Services Expert Advisory Group for their consideration. The overall findings of the testing program will be provided to the community when finalised. ASBESTOS IN MY HOME How do I know if asbestos is in my home? Asbestos was a common building material in Australian homes built between the 1940s and the 1980s. If your home was built during this time, there may be asbestos-containing building materials in your home. Who can inspect my property for asbestos material? You can engage a licensed Building Inspector or Health and Safety consultant to inspect your property. Brimbank City Council does not provide inspection services, but can provide more information and contact details of health and safety experts. Page 4

5 Should we leave our home if it contains asbestos? No, you don t need to leave your home. You can contact Brimbank City Council to get advice on managing asbestos materials in residential properties at or phone (03) Is it safe for me to go into my roof space? Asbestos building materials in roof spaces presents a very low risk as long as it is not disturbed and appropriate precautions are taken. To be cautious, it is recommended that you seek expert advice before entering roof spaces and that you wear suitable protection. A licensed Building Inspector or Health and Safety consultant can inspect your property. For more information, contact or phone (03) Do pink batts contain asbestos? No. Is it safe to eat my homegrown vegetables and fruit? Yes. They are safe to eat. However, general advice is that vegetables and fruit should always be washed before they are eaten. ASBESTOS AND MY HEALTH Who is at risk of getting an asbestos-related disease? It s important to note that the risk is different for different people. It depends on a number of factors including how many fibres a person might inhale and for how long. Occupational exposure Those who worked in asbestos industries and were exposed to high levels of loose asbestos fibres over a long time. Domestic exposure Families of exposed workers who were also exposed by fibres carried home on clothes and particularly during washing. Neighbourhood exposure This is environmental exposure to those living in the neighbourhood of an operating asbestos industry. While the factory was operating, residents living or working near the factory may also have been exposed to asbestos fibres that were blown off the factory site. Also, some children who played on the factory site describe exposure to asbestos and may also have brought fibres home on their clothes. Builders and home renovators are at risk if they do not take the appropriate precautions when they disturb asbestos containing materials. Is there is a disease cluster in Sunshine North? A disease cluster is when a significantly larger than expected number of cases of a disease are found within a group of people in the same area, over a period of time. Any concerns by community members about potential clusters of diseases are all taken seriously and followed up. Historically in both Australia and abroad, what initially appears to be a cluster of disease usually turns out to be normal variation of that disease in the community. The Department of Health and Human Services has established an Expert Advisory Group to advise the Chief Health Officer on the public health implications related to the old Wunderlich factory site. Data from the Cancer Council Victoria, using the Victorian Cancer Registry found 16 cases of mesothelioma within a two kilometre radius of the site for the period from 2001 to The expected number of cases is Page 5

6 10. Individual exposure details of these 16 cases are not available so it is not possible to make a definitive statement about the nature (occupational, domestic, neighbourhood,) or specific source of exposure. Mesothelioma takes a number of decades to develop and the initial asbestos exposure is likely to be related to the time when the factory was operating prior to the 1980s. How are health concerns about exposure to asbestos recorded? Any potential exposure to asbestos can be recorded on the National Asbestos Exposure Register at I am worried about my health and about my family s health. What should I do? If you have concerns about asbestos exposure and your health please speak with your General Practitioner. Information about your possible environmental exposures can also be discussed with the environmental health officers at Brimbank City Council. Is there a risk now for children generally playing in dumped rubbish? Children should not be allowed to play in dumped rubbish because of a multitude of potential hazards including broken glass, dangerous building materials and asbestos-related products. The stories of piles of asbestos dust at the Wunderlich site refer to work practices prior to the site closure. Asbestos at the site has since been buried and capped to prevent risk to the community and workers. How can I be sure I have not been exposed to asbestos? Everyone is exposed to asbestos as there is a very low amount in the air we breathe every day. There is generally no screening test that can be usefully done in well people to ascertain their risk of future asbestosrelated disease. Asbestos-related disease can take decades to develop. If you are concerned or have symptoms such as prolonged cough, blood in your sputum (spit) or shortness of breath, then you should see your GP for assessment. What can I do to protect my family from asbestos? Get the facts about asbestos and asbestos fibres. Avoid going into your roof space without first getting expert advice and wearing suitable protection. Avoid unsafe handling asbestos-containing materials. Keep children away from dumped rubbish and industrial sites. Dispose of your own rubbish properly and reporting any illegal dumping to Council. See your doctor for personal health concerns. Brimbank Council has provided an information hub on their website ( for access to all the agencies you may need to contact. Key contacts: - Brimbank Council on (03) Environment Protection Authority (EPA) on Department of Health and Human Services (Environmental Health) on Note: If you live in public housing, contact your local housing officer. Authorised and published by the Victorian Government, 1 Treasury Place, Melbourne. State of Victoria, March Page 6

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