Roof batt 'as deadly as asbestos'

WIDELY considered a harmless material, synthetic mineral fibres (SMF), or common insulation found in almost any home, could be a ticking ‘time bomb’, on par with asbestos for causing lung disease after regular exposure.

After working for many years with SMF products, retired Clarence Valley builder John Melenhorst is warning people about the potential hazard of handling this product.

While SMFs are not considered a danger when inert, or in other words when already installed as insulation in our ceilings and walls, according to Mr Melenhorst the real problem is when the product is handled either during installation or removing it.

Mr Melenhorst’s claims are backed up by the World Health Organisation International Agency for Research on Cancer, which has conducted studies on animals and determined SMFs – such as rock-wool, ceramic and glass fibres – as ‘Class 2B carcinogens’. Long-term exposure to SMF could be shown to be associated with a slightly increased risk of lung cancer among exposed workers. Mr Melenhorst was warning people who worked with the material to follow proper safety procedures at all times, including wearing a full protective suit and facemask.

“Ninety percent of the guys (on a worksite) don’t even worry about it,” said Mr Melenhorst.

“They cut it with a knife, they wear no suits, no masks ... when you get it in a ceiling, in a closed environment, that’s when it’s bad. What’s going to happen in 50 years’ time? I’ve worked with the stuff for many years as a professional builder and I can work with it for no more than half-an-hour before my skin breaks out in a rash (as well).”

Mr Melenhorst was not the only one speaking out against the potential harm of SMF products.

David Gerke, OH&S training officer with the Australian Workers Health Centre in Sydney, highlighted what he perceived as the building industry’s general disregard and complacency for the harmful nature of the product.

“The main problem is that SMFs are portrayed as safe,” said Mr Gerke.

“Often the packaging (on imported product) is not labelled as harmful.”

He said this factor added to the myth the product was safe to handle.

“We wouldn’t have codes of practice if it was safe.”

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