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Alison Reid presents on asbestos research

News story

Associate Professor Alison Reid returned to Perth following a busy three months attending national and international conferences to present on her research into asbestos.

Alison was invited to present at a workshop held in Manchester, UK in September. The workshop was run by the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the Government Office for Science and it had a core focus on asbestos in the built environment. Asbestos exposure is a heavily political issue in the UK and the week prior to the workshop the All Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health made the following call “The All Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health believes that the time has come to put in place regulations requiring the safe, phased and planned removal of all the asbestos that still remains in place across Britain. The duty holder must develop and implement a plan for the removal of all asbestos which ensures that removal is completed as soon as is reasonably practical but certainly no later than 2035. In the case of public buildings and educational establishments, such as schools, this should be completed by 2028”.

Along with four other invited speakers, Alison was asked to provide a half an hour presentation with the intention of it informing three breakout group sessions who would decide the future research agenda and set priorities for the HSE on asbestos. Alison spoke about her research, following up the disease outcomes in the cohorts exposed to blue asbestos at Wittenoom, as well as an overview of asbestos exposure in the Australian built environment and how Australia is managing. Alison also included information about asbestos exposure and disease risk in children – work she published in 2009 and which is of particular interest in the UK due to concerns with asbestos in their schools and the risks of mesothelioma and other asbestos related diseases among children and staff.

Following her visit to the UK, Alison was invited to speak at the US Environmental Protection Agency Mid-continent Ecology Division on asbestos-like minerals in the Upper Midwest: Implications for mining and health conference in Duluth, Minnesota. The conference participants were from a range of backgrounds, including geologists, toxicologist, mineralogists and health more broadly – which Alison says was terrific for breaking down research silos.  In the upper midwest of the United States they mine taconite for its hematite (iron ore) concentrations. Unfortunately, much of the rock contains fibres that are very similar to asbestos.  Alison was asked to present her research findings into the disease outcomes among the former workers and residents of the township of Wittenoom, who were exposed to blue asbestos (crocidolite), the most carcinogenic form of asbestos.   The local asbestos like rock is very similar to crocidolite, so there is a concern about the potential health risks of the taconite mine workers and possible exposure from new mines that were being proposed for development with Alison’s work showing high disease rates among people that were very highly exposed.

Following her international visits, Alison was invited to speak at the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency International conference in Brisbane in November. Alison was asked to speak about the work she did for the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency identifying the future sources of asbestos exposure in the Australian built environment and also to participate in a question and answer session of a panel of experts.

Alison’s research is integral into this global issue and her attendance at these conferences will assist in the ongoing discussions into current research priorities and future challenges.