June 05, 2013 | Graham

Me and asbestos

Even the risk to workers in the NBN asbestos events would seem to me to be over-stated, let alone that to residents. Asbestos is a dangerous product, but huge numbers of us have experienced significant exposure to it without developing any signs of asbestosis.

In the 60s and 70s I was Dad’s labourer as he renovated various beach cottages that we owned. This was an environment where cheap materials were used, and preferably those that could withstand prolonged exposure to the elements, particularly salt spray.

“Fibro” or asbestos fibreboard as it is generically known, was the material of choice, not just for external and internal cladding of walls, but for roofs as well. Particularly roofs, as they regularly rusted away under the ministrations of the coastal gales.

At first we used to cut the boards using specially designed cutters which cut by punching thin sticks of asbestos out from between the two parts of the sheet you wanted to separate. These made great play swords until they broke.

But sometime in the 70s someone invented a circular saw blade that would cut asbestos. Dad loved this invention. It was a spectacular process where a tornado of asbestos dust billowed out from the saw and distributed a thin sheet of dust over everything.

I can still remember the effect it made lying over the hairs of my arm. Unlike normal dirt it tended to cling.

By now you are probably getting the impression that I had a fair bit of exposure to asbestos, and you would be right. Dad had even more. Not only was he the principal artisan, but in his day job as a marine engineer he was also exposed to asbestos in the lagging that was used around piping in ships (the cause of death of some sailors).

Yet, when Dad died aged 93 there was no sign of exposure. Last time someone had cause to look at my lungs there was no sign either, and modesty forbids me from boasting how well they work in the gym.

Apparently 600 or so of us die from asbestosis each year. That sounds like a large number, but it is actually around the same level as the Queensland annual road toll.

Given that my experience was certainly not unique, that means that the residents exposed to the current NBN misadventures in asbestos are highly unlikely to suffer any ill effects at all. It is probably much more dangerous for them to hop into their car and drive to the next suburb.

Posted by Graham at 7:34 am | Comments (7) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. Asbestos is a dangerous and or sometimes lethal product. Clearly some are more susceptible to it than others, who like Graham, touch wood, have yet to manifest any symptoms.
    Others can expose themselves to a daily dose of sunshine, entirely unprotected, and never ever develop melanoma. Yet we advise all and sundry, slip, slop, slap!
    My maternal grandfather smoked all his life and lived to 98. He walked every day of his life, and at least two miles.
    Even so, one would council against taking up the habit.
    Any exposure to asbestos is virtual Russian roulette, with your health and or life in play, and at risk!
    A caviller attitude toward that risk, is just plain dumb!
    Alan B. Goulding.

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — June 5, 2013 @ 1:41 pm

  2. Alan, you’re a long way off the money. The asbestos used in building materials was fairly benign. I know it will hurt your eyeballs, but Andrew Bolt has a collection of interesting quotes on his blog about just how dangerous, or not, it is http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/index.php/heraldsun/comments/asbestos_risk_choose_reason_or_ray_hadleys_scare/

    Interesting when people who support the opposition come out and say that this asbestos issue is overblown?

    Comment by Graham — June 5, 2013 @ 2:08 pm

  3. We used to say more or less the same thing about lead in paint, or petrol, tobacco products and tanning clinics?
    Clearly, the tobacco industry knew for at least two full decades that their products were killing folks, ditto the asbestos industry!
    Yes Graham, there are two types, the blue more dangerous than the white? [Bernie Bantram ought to have an epitaph that reads, see, I told you the stinking stuff was downright dangerous!]
    Sort of like comparing the health aspects of overdone exposure to winter sunshine or summer’s, or falling asleep at the wheel?
    None of which may result in any actual harm for some!
    Personally, I would handle the stuff with all due care!
    Or if driving tired, get out stretch the legs, and drink some strong coffee.
    People who get asbestos related cancers, may have a cancer gene that makes them more susceptible.
    Who knows if they have the gene or are or not susceptible!?
    And there are people trained, ready willing and able to safely remove asbestos!
    I just think Telecom should just crack on and get them on the job, preferably before another Bernie Bantram gets busy organising a class action, that could cost billions!
    Cheers, Alan

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — June 6, 2013 @ 11:31 am

  4. Some people can smoke all their life and not get cancer. The Asbestos danger issue is exaggerated.Most people don’t get Mesothiloma with casual contact and the Blue Asbestos is the most dangerous.

    The ridiculous think is that there are thousands of factories in Aust with Asbestos roofing. I was in one just last week and the Asbestos was flaking off with no apparent concern from local authorities,but somehow an in ground cable node is more dangerous in the open air, than factory workers inhaling a constant stream of fibres every day.

    Why aren’t these factories with flaky Asbestos roofing being made to at least seal their rooves with paint if such a ominous danger is present?

    Comment by Ross — June 6, 2013 @ 7:40 pm

  5. It’s only a matter of time before all asbestos building materials, will be removed, courtesy of Govt legislation, and increasingly punitive fines!
    Most building material can be kept comparatively safe, with the application of acrylic paint, some of which is absorbed.
    Maybe that’s what you witnessed peeling off, Ross?
    We all know by now that inhaling a fairly constant stream of tobacco smoke is fraught!
    But being exposed to a constant stream of asbestos fibre, is even more so. And Governments/politicians that allow that to happen, may also be culpable?
    Its only a matter of time before union reps, will look up/around, and see what they are being exposed to.
    That’s when clever and inordinately expensive lawyers will get involved and various industries forced to the wall and made bankrupt!
    Even something as small as five minutes of breathed in exposure, can apparently result in an asbestos related or caused cancer, 20-60 years down the track?
    Particularly in those who carry those genes, that make them extremely susceptible?
    Maybe we should introduce gene profiling, so as to know who not to employ?
    Cheers, Alan.

    Comment by Alan B. Goulding — June 7, 2013 @ 10:07 am

  6. Alan, I have no idea where you get your “facts” from, but at least in this case they are wrong. The risk from inhaling asbestos from this cement is miniscule. Bigger risk driving your car.

    Comment by Graham — June 8, 2013 @ 10:55 pm

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