As­bestos in hos­pi­tal puts pa­tients and staff at risk

The Weekend Australian - - THE NATION - AMOS AIK­MAN

Pa­tients and staff may have been con­tam­i­nated with po­ten­tially lethal as­bestos fi­bres while work­ing in or vis­it­ing the pathol­ogy unit at Alice Springs Hos­pi­tal.

The North­ern Ter­ri­tory Department of Health has con­firmed the unit was this week closed in­def­i­nitely af­ter as­bestos was de­tected in air sam­ples.

The Cen­tral Aus­tralian Health Ser­vice said in a state­ment that the build­ing in which the pathol­ogy unit was housed had been “se­cured pend­ing re­moval of as­bestos”.

“The most re­cent air sam­pling and swab test­ing for as­bestos in the pathol­ogy build­ing has re­turned a low pos­i­tive re­sult, fol­low­ing mi­nor works over the week­end,” the state­ment said.

“The Department of Health has en­gaged a li­censed as­bestos re­moval­ist to as­sess the prob­lem and de­velop a re­me­di­a­tion plan and NT Work­safe is pro­vid­ing ad­vice on the mat­ter.”

The Week­end Aus­tralian un­der­stands the pos­i­tive tests oc­curred af­ter work­men do­ing ren­o­va­tions last week dis­turbed as­bestos in a ceil­ing cav­ity.

The pathol­ogy unit was not closed un­til early this week, leav­ing a sev­eral-day win­dow in which an un­known num­ber of pa­tients and staff may have been con­tam­i­nated.

Ter­ri­tory agen­cies are scram­bling to iden­tify those at risk, with for­mal state­ments to hos­pi­tal staff and the pub­lic ex­pected to go out this morn­ing.

The pathol­ogy unit, which con­ducts hundreds of thou­sands of tests an­nu­ally, ser­vices the en­tire cen­tral Aus­tralian re­gion.

While al­ter­na­tive ar­range­ments are be­ing made to en­sure patho­log­i­cal ser­vices can con­tinue with the help of other hos­pi­tals and an ex­ter­nal provider, the fu­ture of mil­lions of dol­lars worth of po­ten­tially con­tam­i­nated equip­ment is un­clear.

The pathol­ogy build­ing is one of the old­est on the hos­pi­tal cam­pus. No other ar­eas are known to be af­fected. Only pa­tients and staff who vis­ited the pathol­ogy unit be­tween Fri­day of last week and Tues­day of this week are be­lieved to be at risk. It is un­clear why the pres­ence of as­bestos was not de­tected ear­lier.

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