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Rising DIY renovations leading to ‘third wave’ of asbestos disease

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The rise of DIY home renovations — fuelled by reality TV shows — could lead to a "third wave" of asbestos-related diseases in Australia, experts have warned.

This week marks 10 years since the death of campaigner Bernie Banton, who died of the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma.

His widow Karen has since formed the not-for-profit Bernie Banton Foundation, which seeks to raise awareness of asbestos risks.

Key points:

  • Government agency finds asbestos awareness has "plateaued"
  • 1,770 people reported asbestos exposure in 2016-17
  • Australia has the second highest rate of asbestos-related cancer deaths
  • Campaigners urge DIY renovation caution

"There is a rise of DIY renovations and we're working hard to prevent that influx … because it's a problem long into the future," Ms Banton told News Breakfast.

"It is absolutely critical that we work now to prevent a future influx of third-wave victims by bringing the risks of asbestos exposure back to the forefront of people's minds."

The Bernie Banton Foundation says Australia has the second highest rate of asbestos-related cancer deaths in the world per capita, after the UK, and estimates by 2030, asbestos-related diseases will have killed 60,000 Australians.

The Foundation says the trend for DIY renovations has been "spurred on" by TV shows, and presents a new risk.

It's a concern echoed in the latest annual report from the Federal Government's Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, released last month.

The agency found there was concern among some people about asbestos risks, and this was, "likely to become more apparent with the increasing trend in DIY activities and major home renovations".

However, it also found awareness levels had plateaued across the country and in some places had gone backwards.

"[This] leaves the agency with more work to do in certain sectors like the young, do-it-yourself home renovators and young tradespeople," the report reads.

In the past year 1,770 Australians reported suspected asbestos exposure to the agency — an increase of 13 per cent on the previous year.

Ms Banton said she didn't want people to be alarmed if their home had asbestos, but they should be aware of it and the risks associated with renovations.

"We were prolific users last century of asbestos, it is everywhere in our built environment," she said.

"But it can be managed. The risk can be managed.

"If people have asbestos in their home — if they are contemplating renovations — have it professionally removed by an asbestos removalist."

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