Last week, Queensland Health launched a probe into the impact of the former Wunderlich factory located in Bellevue Avenue, Gaythorne. This investigation came shortly after the five month investigation conducted in Victoria, following a spike in reported cancer levels for locals living around the former Sunshine North Wunderlich factory.

Common building material

Asbestos was a commonly utilised building material throughout the 1940s to 1980s and can be found in the walls, ceilings and floors of buildings constructed around that time. While intact and undisturbed, asbestos in this form is not dangerous, however, those at greatest risk of the latest identified exposure are those who lived around or visited the Wunderlich sites during their operation.

The Sunshine North Wunderlich factory manufactured asbestos for 50 years, up until the early 1980s, and was owned by both CSR and James Hardie before it closed. The Sunshine North Wunderlich factory was closed in 1982 and site remediation was then undertaken until a date in 1986.  Similarly, the Wunderlich factory in Gaythorne, Queensland, operated for 47 years, until 1983, causing locals to be exposed to uncontained asbestos throughout this period.

Report on asbestos levels in the area

In Victoria, an independent hygienist was recently commissioned to complete a report on asbestos levels in the area and concluded there is currently no asbestos in indoor air samples, or within surrounding soil. While this may help to reduce the anxiety of current homeowners, this report does not negate the fact that many people were directly exposed to unsecured asbestos by simply being unfortunate enough to reside near the factory premises, while it continued to operate for almost 50 years.

Queensland officials have advised they will act on any evidence gathered from investigations being undertaken in Victoria and, for past and present Gaythorne residents, the Queensland investigation will remain ongoing. It has also recently been reported the Queensland investigation will also look to the area surrounding the former James Hardie factory in Newstead, which also operated until 1983.

WorkCover findings

In addition to new concerns of asbestos exposure for locals previously residing near both the Wunderlich and James Hardie factories during their operation, in October, WorkCover NSW also reported that, for the first time, loose-fill asbestos had been found in the roof spaces of Sydney residences. It was reported the vast bulk of asbestos material had been removed in the years prior to the recent inspection, but residual fibres remained.  The loose-fill asbestos found during the investigation of WorkCover NSW did not appear to be the notorious Mr Fluffy brand, however, loose-fill asbestos still poses a serious risk to health and safety of those who may inhale the toxic substance.

It is important to remember most people who are exposed to asbestos will not develop an asbestos disease, however, there is no safe level of asbestos exposure and even small asbestos exposure can result in the development of an asbestos related disease such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, or asbestosis.

The results of the Queensland investigation are ongoing.