More action needed to prevent importation of asbestos products

A review of Australia’s asbestos border controls has found that companies importing goods containing asbestos are not being properly investigated by the Australia Border Force due to ‘time and resource’ constraints.

The release comes amid an outcry led by unions and business groups over the rising incidence of Chinese-made building products contaminated with asbestos slipping through border controls, exposing Australian workers. White asbestos, or chrysotile, has been found in building materials at the Perth Children’s Hospital, in an office tower in Brisbane, and most recently in more that 8000 cement sheets imported by a South Australian building company.

The report found that Australian Border Force checks less that 5 per cent of all products imported into the country for asbestos. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s ability to keep asbestos out of the country is further limited by a lack of available technologies to detect asbestos content through non-intrusive testing, such as x-ray scanning equipment.

“White asbestos” continues to be widely used in China despite World Health Organization warnings. China produces the second largest amount of asbestos in the world, but production there still cannot match demand for the product and China continues to import it from Russia, the world’s largest producer of asbestos. The China Asbestos Association reported that last year the country produced 227,000 tonnes of “white asbestos”, and imported 105,000 tonnes, making it the biggest global user of the substance, accounting for 27 per cent of worldwide production.

South Australian senator Nick Xenophon has said that he would introduce legislation to mandate testing for products imported from overseas companies that had come to the attention of the Australian Border Force. “There has been a ban for a number of years but the ban has not been effective and I have not been confident with the way the Border Force has dealt with these issues,” Senator Xenophon has said. “Anyone who knowingly brings asbestos into the country should also face a jail term.”

It has emerged that the $180,000 maximum fine for illegally importing asbestos into Australia has never been imposed.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection has defended itself against allegations that it has allowed asbestos to enter the country too easily. “There were 11 detections of asbestos-contaminated goods at the border over the last financial year from more that 1100 targeted high-risk shipments”, a spokesman said.

Asbestos Victims Association South Australia president Terry Miller has warned of the risks of asbestos imports coming from China, and said that “once a company is identified, we should put a ban on that company and any subsidiary company for a minimum of five years.”

“If they can’t be fair dinkum and honest when they brand something asbestos-free that contains asbestos, then they should pay the penalty,” Mr Miller said. “The ball is in the politicians’ court. What is a human life worth?”


The Australian, 27 July 2016;

The Australian, 4 August 2016.

The Australian, 5 August 2016.