Flood cleanups pose risk of cancer

Cancer Council QLD

As the east coast of Australia mops up the impacts of heavy rain and flooding, Cancer Council Queensland warns of the increased risk of cancer caused by asbestos when cleaning up flood damage in businesses and homes. 

Malignant mesothelioma, a cancer of the tissue lining the cavities of the torso that usually affects the lungs or abdomen and is nearly always due to exposure to asbestos, caused 696 deaths in Australia in 2020. 

While most Australians diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma in Australia in recent years have a history working with asbestos as a trades person, or in the land or water transport industries,Cancer Council Queensland warns the risks for everyday Australians may increase while cleaning and clearing flood-damaged properties. 

Cancer Council Queensland General Manager of Advocacy James Farrell said after natural disasters, it is important to remind Australians of the health risks associated with exposure to asbestos as they attempt to clean up. 

“According to the Queensland Building and Construction Commission (QBCC), around one-third of Queensland homes still contained asbestos products in 2019 – despite a ban on its use since 2003,” Mr Farrell said. 

“After natural disasters such as floods and fires, some affected Australians will attempt a self-clean up, many without industry recognised training in asbestos removal and minimal awareness of how to locate the material.” 

Chair of Cancer Council’s occupational and environmental cancers committee Professor Tim Driscoll focuses his studies in epidemiology on work-related exposuresand diseases at The University of Sydney and has spoken out about the dangers of asbestos for many years.

“Mesothelioma has a long latency period, which means symptoms typically appear decades after a person has been exposed to asbestos. Due to this we have seen a steady increase in the number of mesothelioma cases since 1982and sadly, survival rates remain low,” Professor Driscoll said. 

“As more Australians are impacted by severe weather and required to repair their homes and businesses due to damages, its important they are aware of dangers associated with asbestos.” 

New research out of Cancer Council Queensland aims to understand the geographic distribution of malignant mesothelioma incidence and survival across Australia to identify varying demand in diagnostic and treatment services. 

The study found strong evidence of geographical variation in cases of mesothelioma in Australia, with high incidence in Western Australia and coastal areas of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. Across all areas, poor survival rates were consistent. 

“When looking at this new research, it’s clear the demand is widespread for diagnostic and treatment services relating to mesothelioma across Australia,” Mr Farrell said. 

“Prevention is the best method in reducing future incidence of mesothelioma in Australia.”

“We urge anybody facing the cleanup of flood-damaged homes, particularly if the property was built before 2003, to explore professional support in locating and removing asbestos,” Mr Farrell concluded. 

/Public Release. This material from the originating organization/author(s) may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).View in full here.