Surf Coast home owners urged to beware of asbestos as they return to their properties after Christmas Day bushfires

4 January 2016
As residents affected by the Great Ocean Road bushfires return to their homes this week to assess the damage, property owners are encouraged to remain vigilant about the dangers asbestos poses.

The fire, which continues to burn out-of-control in the region, destroyed 116 homes at Wye River and Separation Creek after it was sparked by lightning on Christmas Day.

Authorities have announced that all fire affected areas are expected to be deemed safe for residents to return by the end of this week, amid warnings about the potential threat of asbestos contamination.

Jane McDermott, a principal in the asbestos and dust diseases practice at Maurice Blackburn, said anyone visiting homes razed or damaged by fire – including firefighters – needed to take precautions to avoid being exposed to asbestos and running the risk of developing an asbestos-related disease in the future.

“As there is no safe level of asbestos exposure, local residents and all entering the area need to be vigilant,” she said.

“Many people who have had exposure to asbestos over very short periods of time have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, including people who have been involved in home renovations and building work. Those rummaging through fire-damaged homes are also at risk of this very real public health threat, especially considering many of the homes in this area were constructed out of asbestos cement building products.”

Asbestos was used during the construction of many homes on the Surf Coast and elsewhere until 1987. Products it is contained in include internal and external walls, under floor coverings such as carpets, linoleum and vinyl tiles, behind wall and floor tiles and in eaves, garages. It has also been detected around hot water pipes, fences, outdoor toilets, chook pens and backyard sheds.

Maurice Blackburn has an online national asbestos register and anyone concerned that they have been exposed to asbestos is encouraged to register their details and exposure at


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