Master Builders Australia (MBA) have released an alarming media release warning the Australian design and construction industry to be wary of imported Chinese building products “laced with asbestos”.

MBA reported that Australian border-security officials have admitted to a limited capacity to stop contaminated goods entering Australia and that the Abbott government has conceded it is unable to guarantee Chinese imports are free of asbestos, amid some evidence of its use in the car, mining and building industries.

The release also reported that unions are “alarmed at the potential harm to consumers and workers” on the back of asbestos findings in imported Chinese plasterboard and also Great Wall and Chery Chinese cars in 2012.

While the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service officials  admitted they can’t guarantee the safety of imported Chinese goods, they did say that existing legislation made illegal the introduction of asbestos and its efforts to stop their import were “proportionate to the level of risk’’.

Customs also said it was proactive in trying to curb asbestos: “We may take prosecution action against importers found to have imported goods containing asbestos, with penalties of up to $170,000 for individuals, $850,000 for companies, or three times the value of the goods — whichever is greater.’’

Master Builders Australia chief executive Wilhelm Harnisch said the issue of asb­estos-laced products from China was “critical’’ for the industry, particularly with the rising levels of foreign trade.

“This is a critical issue for the building industry,’’ he told The Australian.

“Here’s an opportunity to nip this in the bud.’’

China is the second-largest producer of asbestos (behind Russia) and also Australia’s highest overseas import source.