The Occupational Hygiene and Environmental Health Team at Heggies were recently engaged by the New South Wales Fire Brigade (NSWFB) to conduct a detailed health risk assessment in relation to the potential exposure of personnel to airborne asbestos fibres while undertaking training activities at the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Training Facility, Holsworthy Army Base.
The USAR Training Facility was used in the training of emergency services personnel in search and rescue exercises involving stockpiles of building rubble contaminated with asbestos material.
After extensive consultation with the Department of Defence, WorkCover NSW, ComCare and various unions, Heggies conducted a series of controlled studies re-enacting the various critical training activities previously undertaken at Holsworthy by site preparation staff, course instructors, course participants and mock victims.
A range of activities were undertaken on different days and under different weather conditions on areas of the stockpile that had been previously determined to contain asbestos.
Exposure was measured using personal air monitors, with additional monitors placed around the boundary of the site. Analysis was undertaken using a variety of internationally recognised methods including the use of Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) through the University of Queensland.
Potential quantitative risk, using both obtained and relevant epidemiological data was calculated using occupational and environmental exposure concentrations and found to be significantly lower than the Australian occupational standard.
The Heggies Report stated that "personnel at the site were exposed to negligible levels of airborne asbestos thus risks to human health were correspondingly low and below the standards recognised by Australian and US authorities."
The report was extensively peer-reviewed by leading occupational hygienists, toxicologists and public health physicians and was determined to be undertaken in a scientifically robust and transparent manner, and "provides one of the most relevant and significant asbestos exposure studies in Australia to date".