Australian emergency services personnel exposed to asbestos

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Wednesday, March 8, 2006

Asbestos fibres in human lungs

At least 250 members of Australia's emergency services personnel in New South Wales have been informed that they could die from exposure to fatal levels of asbestos following emergency response training south of Sydney.

Members of the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) unit are thought to be at risk. They were told last week they may contract life-threatening illnesses following training on a demolition site at Holsworthy Army Barracks. The site was created to simulate rescues in the event of a terror attack or natural disaster. It has been regularly used by emergency services personnel since 2004.

Some of the emergency services personnel spent up to three weeks at a time crawling through the rubble.

Reports claim that when notified last week, senior personnel were left devastated. It can take decades for asbestos related illnesses to appear and can take up to 30 years before those exposed can be cleared of infection.

In addition to the emergency service personnel, doctors, nurses and hazardous material personnel could also be at a mild risk. Even Morris Iemma, premier of New South Wales, who visited the site has been warned he could be at risk.

According to The Daily Telegraph, a repected Sydney newspaper, it has been established that "No proper tests were done at the site before it became a training ground for hundreds of top-level rescuers in 2004", "Personnel were kept in the dark for up to a year about the asbestos before being told last week", "NSW public officials and a host of ministers may have been exposed", "Ambulance chief Greg Rochford and Mr Mullins have been at the site and must face a health clearance", and "The Dust Diseases Tribunal is conducting an investigation into the long-term impact the mass exposure could have on emergency services in NSW."

Sources

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