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We may have left 2013 behind, but asbestos is still a topic that continues to make headlines all over the world.

Australia has seen its fair share of asbestos-related news stories since 2014 began – the following are just a few.

NSW primary school contaminated by asbestos

A primary school located in the suburb of Summer Hill (8 kilometres west of Sydney’s CBD) could be contaminated by asbestos, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.

The students of Summer Hill Public School arrived back from the summer holidays only to discover their playground was covered in “small pieces of fibro”.

It’s thought the fibro made its way into the area when the playground was being seeded during the summer holidays.

Summer Hill Public School’s principal, Karen Shehata, sent a letter to parents last week informing them of the discovery and letting them know the Department of Education had been contacted.

A hygienist was brought in to test the playground on Saturday, and the results of this are expected to be available by February 18. In the meantime, Ms Shehata said precautions have been taken to ensure students are in no danger from the playground.

This is not the first time asbestos and schools have found themselves in the same news article. The Age reported in June last year that around two-thirds of schools in Victoria are thought to be contaminated by asbestos, and parents, teachers and principals had called on the government to get it removed once and for all.

In response, Minister for Education Martin Dixon said the government has a “comprehensive system” in place to ensure students and staff are kept safe while on school grounds.

This includes “expert training, detailed asbestos-managements plans and a hotline that schools can call to get an immediate site inspection and, where appropriate, have the asbestos removed”.

In December, the government announced a “new asbestos agreement” between WorkSafe Victoria and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, which saw a number of rules and regulations introduced to protect students and staff from the dangers of asbestos.

For instance, any schools thought to contain asbestos will now have to put signs in place that inform passersby of this fact. The agreement also states that all principals in Victoria must undergo asbestos awareness training, and a “mass audit of schools” is expected to take place this year, reports ABC News.

New South Wales has also taken steps to ensure its students and staff are not at risk of exposure to asbestos at school.

The state’s Department of Education and Communities has a Schools Asbestos Register, which “contains information about the existence and location of any known or presumed asbestos-containing materials” at schools around New South Wales. This information is based on “advice from experts”.

The purpose of the Schools Asbestos Register is to give people an indication of how likely they are to come into contact with asbestos while attending or visiting any schools in the state.

A number of businesses shut down by asbestos

While it’s more or less “business as usual” for Summer Hill Public School while they wait for the results of the hygienist’s test to come back, other businesses have not been so lucky.

It was confirmed on Thursday (January 23) that a commercial building in Australia’s capital was contaminated by asbestos. A test carried about by WorkSafe ACT on the property found that asbestos fibres were floating down from the roof and putting employees’ lives at risk.

A number of businesses were forced to close down as a result, according to ABC News. It’s not yet clear how many employees have been exposed to the deadly fibres, or how long they have been exposed for.

It’s a well-known fact that the longer a person is exposed to asbestos for, the greater their chances of developing such illnesses as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. As it stands, there is no cure for this latter condition.

ACT Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe told ABC News on Friday (January 24) the asbestos fibres were “not coming down in great quantities”, but employees moving around and causing the asbestos fibres to become airborne was increasing the likelihood that people would inhale them.

“Continued use of this building in its current state could lead to a high risk of exposure to friable asbestos,” said Mr McCabe.

ABC News said the more testing will be conducted over the coming weeks to determine whether the businesses can re-open or the roof needs to be replaced.

“While we believe that the likelihood of exposure for members of the public is low, if members of the public are concerned about possible exposure to asbestos, they should contact their local general practitioner,” explained Mr McCabe.

Canberra is not the only town that has had businesses shut down by asbestos. A range of small communities across New South Wales have also seen various properties boarded up due to asbestos contamination.

An article published by ABC News on January 18 revealed that hundreds of buildings owned by the New South Wales police have been found to contain asbestos and lead paint, making them unfit for people to live and work in.

As a result, many of these communities have been without local police for a couple of months now – or, in the case of Ungarie (a small town located in central-west Sydney), the past one and a half years!

The new source states that New South Wales police located over half-an-hour’s drive away have been seeing to the town’s needs during that time. Some residents believe the lack of police has led to an increase in crime.

According to the New South Wales police, it’s expected to cost upwards of $100 million to make the many properties safe for inhabiting again – so “police are exploring alternatives”.

Old asbestos mine puts community at risk

Finally, many people from the Aboriginal community of Baryulgil have been diagnosed with asbestos-related illnesses – and more are expected to follow suit.

Baryulgil was a prosperous asbestos-mining town from the 1940s until the 1970s, when operations stopped after information about just how dangerous asbestos was came to light.

Because the symptoms of asbestos-related illnesses take between 20 and 40 years to appear, those who were exposed to this deadly fibre back when the mine was up and running are only now discovering the impact it’s had on their health.

The Australian reported last year that over 10 per cent of the Aboriginal community is expected to be diagnosed with asbestos-related illnesses in the next few years. That’s in addition to the 10 per cent who have already contracted such diseases.

An investigation into the mine revealed the proper safety precautions had not been taken to protect workers.

For instance, “adequate dust control” that would have prevented workers from breathing in the deadly asbestos fibres while going about their work was deemed an “unnecessary expense” by the mine’s owner.

One source told ABC News the air was so full of asbestos fibres sometimes that it was “impossible to see anywhere”.

Make sure you and your fellow workers are safe when performing tasks in asbestos-contaminated areas by enrolling in asbestos awareness training today.

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