September 15 2011:
Stricter criteria for measuring asbestos in air are needed to
shield Australian society – especially children – from
long-term asbestos exposure, a leading mineral scientist says.
Australia still has the world’s highest rates of cancer
from asbestos disease – and needs to toughen its measures to
prevent it, Mr Mike van Alphen of The University of South Australia
will tell the CleanUp 2011 conference in Adelaide today.
Mr van Alphen argues that Australia’s current methods for
measuring asbestos in the environment are insufficient to assure
protection of the public from long-term, low-level exposure,
particularly in the case of children.
“Although there is a low risk of asbestos exposure in the
general population, certain residents are still vulnerable to the
substance in their homes,” he says.
“The key is discovering high risk settings and then
eliminating the risk. There is also a need for public involvement
and transparency in relation to setting an acceptable level of
Mr van Alphen explains that most of the houses built in
Australia between the 1930s and the 1980s contained some asbestos
and questions whether common products such as asbestos-backed vinyl
floor sheeting are high-priority items for removal from older
While workplaces are constantly examined for asbestos, Mr. van
Alphen explains that the same is seldom done for homes.
“The amount of asbestos in air and soil of residential
areas has not been quantified, so we don’t know who’s
particularly at risk,” he says. “People can unknowingly
breathe in the substance in their homes for large parts of their
lifetimes. Infants, who can spend 90 per cent of their time
indoors, and who could then live in the same house for another
twenty years may be at risk of exposure to lower concentrations of
asbestos in air than are routinely measured.
“Conventionally air measurement techniques for asbestos
have a detection limit of 10,000 fibres per cubic metre of air.
However detection limits of 1000 fibres per cubic metre of air or
lower may be needed in order to identify unacceptable risk settings
if people are subjected to longer-term exposures to asbestos fibres
in air,” he says.
“The risk level may be one in a thousand, or one in ten
thousand. But if we can identify high risk scenarios and identify
those who are most exposed, we can eliminate the risks and make a
difference in people’s lives.”
Mr van Alphen’s research is focused on characterizing
different asbestos minerals and identifying the potential health
Mr van Alphen will deliver his presentation on Thursday,
CleanUp 2011 incorporates the 6th International Workshop on
Chemical Bioavailability in the Terrestrial Environment (7–9
September 2011) and the 4th International Contaminated Site
Remediation Conference (11–15 September 2011). It is hosted
by the CRC for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the
Environment (CRC CARE).
CleanUp 2011 is being held at the Hilton Adelaide hotel in
Adelaide, South Australia.
Mr Mike van Alphen, UniSA, ph 0414326529
Meredith Loxton, Acting Communications Manager, CRC CARE, 08 8302
3925 or 0429 779 228
Sharmin Patard, Communications officer, CRC CARE, 0437 917 352