Report: Asbestos problem in East Timor:
This report was prepared in December 2001 by HT Lee, Julian McKinley King and Andrea Shaw and submitted in January 2002 to Dr Rui Araujo, Minister for Health, East Timor.
Asbestos the silent killer—handle with care
Asbestos, an extremely toxic substance widely used in the building (and other) industry throughout the world until the late 1980s, is a silent killer.
It does not discriminate—knows no age barrier, does not care if you are a man, women, child, worker or the boss, does not distinguish what religion if any you believe in, nor does it worry what part of the world you originated from.
What it does do is to seek and destroy its victim silently. The victims do not even known they have been attacked until 10 or more years down the track. By then it is too late and the victim suffers an agonising death.
Exposure to asbestos dust can lead to asbestosis—a disabling and ultimately fatal scarring of the lungs, and mesothelioma—a rapidly fatal and painful cancer of the lining of the chest, abdomen or heart. It is also known to cause cancer of the colon, vocal chords, rectum and kidneys.
There is no safe level of exposure to asbestos. That is why the removal of asbestos must be done in a safe and proper manner to protect the workers handling them and the public within the surrounding area.
The asbestos problem in East Timor
There is a big asbestos problem in East Timor which needs to be addressed.
According to an Interfet survey carried out in January 2000, every post 1975 structure where a sample was taken contains asbestos—blue, white and brown, either in roofing tiles or in ceiling panels. Major Fred Lehmann undertook this limited survey and handed in his report—Interfet Dili Cantonment Hazard Survey to UNTAET when Interfet left Dili in March 2000.
This finding is confirmed by the Crammer report commissioned by AustAid for UNTAET: East Timor Asbestos Audit Final Report, November 2000.
According to Crammer ‘approximately 10% of residential and 40% of administrative building in East Timor contain AC material, mainly roofing components.'
The three authors to this report have also raised their concerns about the asbestos problem in East Timor:
· HT Lee a freelance photojournalist was in East Timor in August/September 1999 and made a return trip to Dili after Christmas 1999.
He noticed many of the burnt-out buildings contain asbestos—the AC roofing were chard and brittle—making them extremely dangerous because they would easily break up and become airborne. HT has had at least seven years experience photographing and reporting industrial stories for the construction union and has visited various building sites in Sydney and other centres in New South Wale (NSW) on numerous occasions.
He raised his concern with Interfet and was told by them they were aware of the problem and would be undertaking a survey. However, when this matter was raised with the UN the response was different—the UN was unable or unwilling to discuss what safety measures would be taken for the removal of the asbestos.
· Julian McKinley King arrived in Dili in October 1999 to do his PhD on the Transitional Government in East Timor.
He was also concerned with the asbestos problem in Dili and other districts and raised the issue with UNTAET. However, the response from UNTAET was at best lukewarm. Julian has documented and taken extensive footage of the asbestos problem in East Timor in the past 18 months.
· Andrea Shaw an Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Consultant from Ballarat, Victoria was commissioned by APHEDA to provide advice on managing the rehabilitation of the old Dili Golkar building and other OHS issues.
Andrea was in East Timor in May 2000. In her report submitted to APHEDA in June entitled: Report on Andrea Shaw’s visit to Dili, East Timor to examine OHS, she stated ‘OHS is a significant problem in Dili, both because of the critical risks experienced by workers and the general public and because of the neglect this issue is experiencing from both UNTAET and CNRT.'
Andrea has little doubt Dili and other centres are riddled with building debris containing asbestos and recommended its removal be done using Australian NOHSC standard.
UNTAET aware of asbestos problem
UNTAET has been made aware of the asbestos problem as far back as December 1999 and this problem has since become more acute—asbestos debris can now be found in building rubble on roadside all over Dili and other centres in East Timor.
However, UNTAET has not made the removal of asbestos a top priority and the Australian standard for its removal has not been adopted.
According to some UNTAET officials, adopting the Australian standard and making asbestos removal a top priority issue would add millions of dollars to the cost—that money would have to come from existing designated top priority projects.
Crammer, in his report East Timor Asbestos Audit handed in to UNTAET in November 2000 acknowledged there is an asbestos problem in East Timor and made certain recommendations. However, even though Crammer took a minimalist approach in his report, it appears most of his recommendations have not been adhered to. As a matter of fact his report has not been made readily available outside the UN circle—neither has it been widely circulated within it nor has it been translated into Tetum or Bahasa Indonesian for wider circulation.
What needs to be done
Tackling the problem head on
The removal of asbestos must be made a top priority issue, using Australian NOHSC standard for its removal.
The longer asbestos debris are left lying in buildings and all over the place, the bigger the problem will become—as time goes by the cost of removing the asbestos will increase, more people will be exposed to its danger and the health bill will become astronomical.
The asbestos problem in East Timor has now been taken seriously by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) serving in CivPol—AFP officers have recently been given special briefings and have been issued with protective P2 masks. Its therefore time for UNTAET and everyone in East Timor to tackle this problem head on.
As a matter of urgency civic education to expose the dangers of asbestos must be undertaken without any further delays. This should involve the distribution of leaflets in Tetum and Bahasa Indonesian, articles in the local news papers, and the use of radio and TV as part of an ongoing civic education program.
A complete and comprehensive survey of the asbestos problem throughout East Timor must be undertaken immediately by qualified hygienists. This will help to identify the areas and extent of contamination, providing useful data for the development of a proper program and time table for the removal of the asbestos.
Banning asbestos products
Building materials containing asbestos can still be bought in East Timor and they are still being imported from Indonesia. This practice must be stopped and banned—this would be in line with Australia and many European countries.
Procedures in removing the asbestos
The Australian NOHSC Code of Practice for
Safe Removal of Asbestos should be adopted. This would include providing
workers involved in the asbestos removal with the following:
· P2 masks
· Full protective gear
· Proper safety boots and boots protective gear
The following measures must also be in
place before the asbestos is removed:
· Setting up a 10 meters radius around the site
· Signs in Tetum and Bahasa Indonesian informing the public asbestos removal is in progress
· Ample heavy duty plastic bags for bagging and sealing the asbestos—with printed signs in Tetum and Bahasa Indonesian stating ‘Danger - asbestos kills’
· Adequate water supply and hoist to damp down the asbestos
· A proper control method to decontaminate the workers by having a decontamination unit on site
· Conducting air sampling to determine objectively and scientifically if the air in and around the site is safe
Permanent secured site for asbestos disposal
There is no permanent secured site for the disposal of asbestos in Dili or other centres—the asbestos buried at the Tibar rubbish dump in Dili since March 2001 is only a temporary measure until a permanent secured site can be found. The Tibar rubbish dump should not have been used as an asbestos disposal site—temporary or otherwise, because children frequent the dump scavenging for things.
Because asbestos can be found all over East Timor, secured temporary withholding centres should also be built to hold the asbestos waste until it is transported to a permanent secured site.
Proper training program
Workers involved in asbestos removal should be provided with proper accredited training in line with the Australian NOHSC standard. Only workers who have been trained and issued with a ‘green card’ should be employed to removal the asbestos.
COMET Training, a Sydney based company which specialises in providing accredited quality training in the construction industry, and the CFMEU Environmental and Safety Unit Victoria are prepared to provide the necessary training in East Timor for workers and trainers.
Regulations and accreditation
There are no proper regulations for the removal of asbestos—UNTAET only provides guidelines which are not enforceable. To ensure everyone ‘does the right thing’ regulations for the removal of asbestos must be enacted—contractors breaching the regulations could then be given stiff penalties. An asbestos regulation board responsible for enforcing the regulations should also be set up. The board should also be responsible for accreditation—all contractors and training programs must be accredited.
Approaching outside help
The removal of asbestos using Australian NOHSC standard must be made a top priority. The East Timor Constituent Assembly can and is in a unique position to make UNTAET accept this fact and act on it.
The cleaning up of the asbestos will be a huge task which will require additional funding from donor countries as well as additional assistance from abroad. Many organisations including trade unions in Australia would be more than happy to provide the assistance—Appendix A lists organisations which have indicated they would be happy to assist if they are called upon to do so.
Finally, the clean up of the asbestos would require the importation of large quantities of disposable asbestos overalls and masks. These items could be manufactured in East Timor as a cottage industry to provide local employment.
Report prepared by
· HT Lee, Freelance
photojournalist, Sydney, NSW, Australia
Mobile: 0419 411 240 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Julian McKinley
King, PhD Student, Dili, East Timor
Mobile: 0407 439 325 Email: email@example.com
· Andrea Shaw,
OHS Consultant, Ballarat, Victoria, Australia
Mobile: 0419 503 972 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Attached documents (omitted
from email circulation of this report)
· Interfet Dili Cantonment Hazard Survey, January 2000
· Report on Andrea Shaw’s visit to Dili, East Timor to examine OHS, June 2000
· AustAid East Timor Asbestos Audit Final Report, November 2000
· Letter from Ella Sweeney, CEO, Asbestos Dieases Foundation of Australia Inc
Appendix A (omitted from
email circulation of this report)
Resources available in Australia for training on asbestos handling
P.O. Box 340, Dili, East Timor (via Darwin, Australia)
Telephone:+61-417-923273 or +670-390-325013
La'o Hamutuk: email@example.com
17 HTLee: Asbestos epidemic in East Timor, but UNTAET negates its responsibility
Article added Jan 18
"There is a big asbestos problem in East Timor. UNTAET has been made aware of it since December 1999. However, UNTAET has failed to make the removal of asbestos a priority and has not notified the East Timorese and the thousands of foreigners working there about its dangers. ... Asbestos is a silent killer and there is no safe level to its exposure. The victims do not even know they have been attacked until 10 or more years down the track. By then it is too late and the victim suffers an agonising death." HT Lee, freelance photojournalist
Trade Union Aid Abroad - Linking Australian workers
to the world
Up-dated Apr 16
APHEDA: Australian People for Health Education and Development Abroad
APHEDA is the overseas humanitarian aid agency of the ACTU. APHEDA's work focuses on: technical and vocational training in developing countries in particular with refugees and marginalised peoples; development education within the union movement and wider community.
APHEDA Operates In: East Timor, South Africa, Middle East, South East Asia, Cambodia Vietnam, Philippines, Burma, Pacific
(Kanaky & Bougainville Refugees)
ETimor Project Officer - Jacquie Davidson
Telephone: * From within Australia & from mobile in ETimor: (02) 9264-9343 * From landline in ETimor: 001 61 2 9264-9343 * From other countries outside Australia: +61 2 9264-9343
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Homepage: http://www.apheda.org.au East Timor Update January 2001: http://www.pcug.org.au/~wildwood/janapheda.htm
"The few INGOs that have established local partnerships are setting the pace of change. The Australia-based Trade Union Aid Abroad (Apheda), for instance, has a consistent record of working with the CNRT to realise meaningful self-determination in East Timor, and should be seen as a model for the partnership approach." James Goodman, Committee of Management of AID/WATCH in 'Partnership versus ‘consultation’ in East Timor'
on Health & Environment:
BD: Reconstruction and 'Aid & Development' / Rekonstrusaun i 'Ajuda i Dezenvolvimentu' / Pembangunan Kembali / Reconstrução e 'Ajuda e Desenvolvimento' - A collection of recent press releases, reports, and articles