Canberra’s toxic asbestos legacy made it the perfect location to launch a new asbestos awareness van which will tour the country over the coming months.
The Bernie Banton Foundation, which promotes awareness and education around all forms of asbestos, launched its Mobile Asbestos Education and Awareness Unit at the ACT Legislative Assembly on Tuesday amid a crowd of politicians and families who have lost loved ones to asbestos-related disease.
Mr Banton was a former James Hardie worker, who brought much-needed publicity and compensation to asbestos victims before dying seven years ago from mesothelioma.
His wife, Karen, is carrying on his life’s work, having remarried a fellow asbestos campaigner Rod Smith, who lost his wife, Julie, to mesothelioma in 2011.
The pair said that while asbestos awareness was currently at new highs in the ACT thanks to coverage of the Mr Fluffy insulation crisis, the rest of the country still had some way to go in recognising how dangerous and how prevalent asbestos was in the urban environment.
Mr Smith said the Mr Fluffy scheme – in which loose amosite was pumped into the roof spaces of more than 1000 Canberra homes and some in Queanbeyan – was “one of the most dreadful asbestos disasters that could have ever happened”.
Yet he believed general awareness of the dangers of bonded asbestos, commonly found in homes around the country, was disturbingly low. Bonded asbestos is dangerous if the sheeting is broken, drilled, or damaged, releasing fibres into the air.
“No one believes that it can happen to them, or that they will be exposed to asbestos. It is my job to convince them that it could happen if they do not take proper precautions and if they do not know the risks.”
The new van, dubbed “Stan’s Van” commemorates the memory of Sydney restaurateur Stan Moutzouris, who died of mesothelioma in 2010. His family raised money to promote awareness around mesothelioma in his memory.
According to his wife Mary, he was a humble man who would have been surprised to think his name would be associated with a national publicity campaign.
He had just 12 months between his diagnosis and death, with the source of his original asbestos exposure still unknown to the family.
The chief executive of the federal Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency Peter Tighe, travelled from Sydney to attend the launch, noting that Canberra’s Mr Fluffy crisis was being observed internationally.
Australia will host an international asbestos conference in Melbourne next month which would focus on, among other things, Australia’s record number of mesothelioma victims and an expected peak in deaths by 2020.
Mr Tighe warned Canberrans back in April that Mr Fluffy homes would not be fit to live in because of the migration of deadly fibres from roof spaces. It is widely expected the government will adhere to his original advice that all homes should be demolished.