Asbestos risk after bushfires can be safely managed

Director of Public Health and Chief Health Officer, Dr Roscoe Taylor, today said concerns about asbestos should not get in the way of a sensible and careful return to bushfire affected areas.

"The risks associated with asbestos in this situation are readily manageable," Dr Taylor said.

Residents can ask questions on managing the asbestos risk as part of public information sessions today at Hobart City Hall (1pm), Sorell Community Health Centre (4pm), Nubeena Recovery Centre (5pm), Dunalley (6pm) and Hobart City Hall (8pm).

"The key thing to remember is that exposure to asbestos fibres is only likely to occur when people actively disturb ashes on properties built with asbestos-cement sheeting, where that sheeting has been seriously damaged," Dr Taylor said.

"The risk is only to that person and anyone standing right near them and this risk can be easily managed by following some simple rules.

"It is most important to wear protective clothing while looking through the debris and minimise disturbance of dust and ash.

"After a fire, debris may contain asbestos particles in the ash, some of which may be in the form of loose fibres that can be breathed in if disturbed while cleaning up."

Roy Ormerod, General Manager Workplace Standards, said before returning to properties residents should go to the WorkSafe Caravan at Dunalley for advice and to collect a Personal Protective Equipment Kit if they did not have one already.

"Protective gear should be put on before entering your property, including sturdy footwear, heavy-duty work gloves, disposable overalls with long sleeves and trousers and a P2 face mask, sometimes called N95 masks," Mr Ormerod said.

"If possible, dust should be gently wetted down as well, to reduce the risk of fibres becoming airborne and protective equipment should be worn during clean-up.

"Use a fine spray rather than high-pressure hosing, as this can stir up dust.

"Do not spread ash around your property.

"And when you leave your property remove protective clothing, dispose of gloves, overalls and face masks in a garbage bag, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and clean shoes before wearing them again."

Interstate air monitoring after fires has shown that the amount of asbestos fibres released into the air was below levels of detection.

To demonstrate this, Workplace Standards has arranged for monitoring devices to be installed in the areas most affected: Connallys Marsh, Dunalley and Boomer Bay.

Dr Taylor repeated his advice to people returning to bushfire affected areas to exercise caution to avoid injury and other harms on fire-damaged properties.

"Returning to properties after a bushfire is a recognised time of risk and residents should take a number of steps to keep themselves and their families safe," he said.

"Before entering your property first check with local emergency services that it is safe and you have permission to return.

"And be prepared - returning to your property may be stressful and exhausting. It's best to limit time spent at your property if it has been burnt out."

Public info sessions

Public info sessions will be held today at Hobart City Hall (1pm), Sorell Community Health Centre (4pm), Nubeena Recovery Centre (5pm), Dunalley (6pm) and Hobart City Hall (8pm).

More information

For more information on the fire situation and support services, contact 1800 567 567. Up-to-date information on the fires can also be found at the Tasmania Fire Service website www.fire.tas.gov.au Information on returning home safely, grants and other support available to those affected by fires can be found at www.dpac.tas.gov.au/bushfires

Fact sheet

Click to access the Returning to your property safely - fact sheet

10 January 2013