Safety alert issued over asbestos in imported paddlewheel aerators

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Sunday, 3 October, 2021 - 12:45
Policy & legislation
National News

The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency recently issued a safety alert after asbestos was detected in gaskets that are components of paddlewheel aerators, manufactured in China and India.

Paddlewheel aerators are used by land-based aquaculture industries as a means of oxygenating the water in which the livestock grow. During routine maintenance, an Australian end-user of a Chinese manufactured paddlewheel aerator identified the presence of asbestos within a gasket, common to a number of the machines.

Following this occurrence, another importer of an identical Indian manufactured aerator also identified the presence of asbestos in the same (positioned) gasket component, although of different origin. The importers of both model aerators have initiated contact and lawful remediation of the affected gaskets in all machines supplied to Australian customers.

The gaskets are not manufactured by the same organisations that manufacture the aerators, but are supplied by third-party manufacturers, which are yet to be identified in either matter.

In Australia, the importation, manufacture, supply, sale and use or reuse of asbestos and asbestos-containing products is not permitted, except under very limited circumstances. However, some countries around the world continue to manufacture and supply asbestos and asbestos-containing products and materials. In addition, some supplier countries may classify goods with low levels of asbestos as ‘asbestos-free' or ‘non-asbestos'.

Sourcing apparent non-asbestos products from manufacturers that also make asbestos products is a risk for importers because under Australian law any level of asbestos is prohibited for import or use.

The alert said operators of paddlewheel aerators made in China or India, or with any components made in these countries, should assume the machines include gaskets containing asbestos.

Maintenance personnel in possession of gaskets with identical markings to those depicted above, or the identified machines, are advised not to undertake any activities that may disturb the structure of the gasket. They should contact the Australian supplier for clarification and seek the guidance of an asbestos professional.

The alert recommended a number of actions and said importers must ensure they do not import asbestos into Australia. They need to be aware of the varying definitions and standards applied in the country of origin and/or supply and ensure they receive adequate evidence of non-asbestos materials used by the manufacturer. A declaration of no asbestos from the overseas supplier, on its own, is not acceptable evidence.

When a risk is identified at the border, the ABF will require assurance from the importer, in the form of documentary evidence, that the goods do not contain asbestos. A test report from a NATA accredited laboratory (or equivalent international laboratory) showing no detectable asbestos is the best form of assurance.

If adequate assurance is not provided, importers will face delays and be responsible for costs incurred when the goods are held at the border for the purposes of sampling and testing. See the ABF website for further information.