LEAD Action News
LEAD Action News vol 9 no 4, September, 2009, ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News ( ISSN 1440-0561)
The Journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.
Editor-in-Chief: Evan Whitton

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Detoxing homes of ceiling dust before laying thermal insulation makes more sense than leaving it up there for future generations

Following is a letter from The LEAD Group to the Honourable Peter Garrett AM, MP, Australian Minister for Environment, Heritage and The Arts. The reply from the environment department is provided as well.

Even in the 200 or so countries which have already phased out leaded gasoline, the fallout from leaded petrol vehicle emissions doesn’t suddenly disappear from the environment on the lead petrol phase-out date. [You’d be amazed at how many publications including by governments, imply that the phase-out of leaded petrol decreases lead in the environment!] This airborne lead dust settles in dusts in buildings (and especially in building cavities – ceiling cavities, wall cavities, under-floor cavities), and in soils, water bodies and sediments. In Australia, hiring an Australian Dust Removalists Association member nicely combines a toxics issue (detox your home by removing lead-containing ceiling dust from the roof void) with action to reduce global warming (by installing roof insulation).

----- Original Message -----From: The LEAD Group To: minister.office@environment.gov.au Sent: Wednesday, 25 March, 2009 5:02 PM

Subject: Insulation rebate is an opportunity for responsible action & awareness-raising on the hazards of ceiling dust

Dear Minister Garrett,

congratulations on introducing the Energy Efficient Homes Package including the rebate for installation of insulation in home ceiling voids. This will be a great government investment in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.... but it could be much much more than that.

One thing concerns me greatly. I have received many enquiries recently here at the Global Lead Advice and Support Service because a flurry of activity is occurring in the insulation installation industry and some companies who have not done any work in insulation installation before are turning their hand to it, as well as those companies who do insulation installation as an ad-on when doing ceiling dust removal are being asked to just do the insulation installation, etc. Householders have also asked questions, for instance: "Re: government rebates: Do insulation installers have to clean the ceiling dust before starting their installation?"I have no problem with lots more heat insulation being installed and I see that DEWHA [Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts] is managing to ensure that only the work of qualified installers is rebated so those are not my concerns.

What concerns me greatly is that a fantastic opportunity for cleaning up the environment and educating householders and contractors about a little-known environmental health hazard, is being missed: I'm talking about informing people about ceiling dust, and perhaps offering a rebate for removal of ceiling dust prior to insulation installation. Can you imagine yourself being an insulation installer and going into toxic ceiling void after toxic ceiling void full of fine respirable dust (with an array of heavy and radioactive metals), plus insects, mammals or birds nests and detritus, and asbestos and synthetic mineral fibres? And what if, because your employer was uninformed or had their head in the sand about the hazards of ceiling dust, this hazard is not taken into account in your boss's hazard management plan? So you're not supplied even with a dust mask, gloves or overalls and you carry the dust home on your clothes which get washed with your kids clothes. And nobody ever tells you, you should get a blood lead test (because lead is a marker contaminant in ceiling dust) so you keep on doing the job until you get sick of the shocking conditions (the heat, the risk of falls or electrocution) still none the wiser about how that lead exposure is probably going to take years off your life as well as take IQ points off your kids. Can you imagine?

All this can be avoided if you could direct DEWHA staff to change the website www.environment.gov.au/energyefficiency/index.html and to proactively inform the people who apply for a rebate and those who benefit from the rebate, like contractors doing the work, about the hazards of ceiling dust and how a home can be detoxed rather than just sealing dust in with new insulation which will become instantly contaminated by the ceiling dust that's up there.

Obviously the newer a home is, and the further it is from industry, mining or heavily trafficked roadways, the less dust it's going to have in the ceiling void. Since lead petrol was banned in 2002, the rate of accumulation of lead in ceiling dusts would have dropped significantly, but that still leaves millions of homes with highly leaded ceiling dusts and often with hundreds of kilos of dust which could be trickling into the living space or grossly contaminating the house and yard when a ceiling collapses as during hail storms, fires or other disasters. If you could also offer a rebate on ceiling dust removal then your insulation rebate would be the best federal government initiative demonstrating ceiling dust awareness since the Sydney Aircraft Noise Insulation Project (SANIP) which paid for ceiling dust removal from thousands of buildings prior to their demolition or noise insulation installation.

SANIP plus the 1999 hail storm which damaged 20,000 roofs in Sydney, inspired the licensing of a secondary lead smelter in Sydney (ARA) for recycling of the lead out of ceiling dust, as well as the development of the Australian Dust Removalists Association (ADRA) and NSW WorkCover Authority's "GUIDANCE NOTE FOR CEILING DUSTS CONTAINING LEAD" .

In summary:

- there really is no better time to remove ceiling dust than when you are installing insulation, (and now that lead is no longer in petrol the rate of future accumulation of leaded ceiling dusts will be drastically lower than the pre-2002 rate of accumulation);- since the federal government rebate scheme encourages the installation of insulation, the government has a responsibility to, at the same time as offering the rebate, at the least advise people of the hazards of ceiling dust, or better still, offer a rebate for the ceiling dust removal as well. See www.adra.com.au for all the reasons why ceiling dust removal is good for health and the environment.

I look forward to a response to my concerns from your office and I hope you have a good week!

Yours Sincerely

Elizabeth O’Brien, Manager,
Global Lead Advice & Support Service (GLASS) run by The LEAD Group Inc.
PO Box 161 Summer Hill NSW 2130 Australia

Ph +61 2 9716 0132 Freecall 1800 626086

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Last Updated 17 December 2011
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