Asbestos is absolutely prohibited as an import into Australia

An article from Lloyds List in September 2016

Importation into Australia of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) is prohibited except under very limited circumstances, however, despite this prohibition, there have been a number of incidents where ACMs have been imported into Australia. This may sometimes have been the result of unreliable certification provided by overseas manufacturers that goods are asbestos-free. This is because some countries regard products to be ‘asbestos free’ if they contain asbestos below a certain level. In Australia, however, we require zero asbestos content and do not allow tolerances in manufactured goods.

The Customs (Prohibited Import) Regulation’s 2015 are clear as to this prohibition and brokers are of course aware of them.

The current issues being caused by asbestos profiling do not reflect upon the compliance level of brokers. We all understand and support the need for such compliance. The current problems would appear to be caused by too broad a profile being placed by the ABF upon too broad a range of tariff classifications.

For example, heading 7318 – screws, nots, bolts etc. My understanding is that the asbestos was detected in metal screws imported with their asbestos washers. There has been no suggestion that the metal articles themselves are made with or incorporate asbestos. My understanding is that although asbestos has been found in foundries it was used for heat protection and insulation to the machinery and was not added as part of the smeltering process. So how is this blanket ban justified?

The current ICS question reads: “Do these goods contain asbestos?” Wouldn’t therefore the appropriate question in 7318 be to ask if these goods are imported with their washers and only target those consignments? My understanding is that some brokers have experienced delays of 9 days in red line holds on such hardware. (Let’s hope they weren’t also Hanjin consignments)

 There appears to be no point to holding metal nuts, bolts, screws etc if they are not accompanied by washers.  This is NOT, as has been suggested, an attempt by me to make it easier to import asbestos. It’s a plea to think about targeted rather than generic questions. Just because I disagree with the method of implementation does not mean I do not support the need for the prohibition. There is nothing wrong in asking questions or seeking for justification of decisions that impact industry.

DIBP should perhaps advise what type of goods they are seeking to profile and then, with the assistance of industry, draft profiles that are specific in identifying target consignments.

I have been advised too that float glass sheets of 7005.10.00, 7005.21.00, 7005.29.00 are also being targeted. In modern times and in simple terms, glass is made from a mixture of sand, lime and soda. Presumably the coloured glass of 7005.2 has the potential to be coloured by asbestos fibres? And how does that fit with 7005.10? Perhaps if ABF shared their thought patterns there might be more understanding from industry? Better informed is better compliant.

The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) is the responsible body in Australia. In industry briefings in 2015 that Authority provided examples of risk products such as high density board, gaskets, pre-assembled switch rooms, cement sheeting, brake pads, effluent treatment equipment, roof sheeting, clutch linings, nut plugs, insulation products, friction materials and some novelty items. Children’s crayons and some children’s remote control cars were also deemed a risk.

At Outcome 3.6 of the identification strategy under the National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Management and Awareness, this Agency is required to ensure effective coordination of response when ACMs in imported materials are identified. Are we to assume that asbestos has been found as a component in products across the broad range of tariff classifications nominated given the extent of the profiling? Or is this just where they may occur?

The Asbestos Importation Review Report prepared by KGH Border Services in March 2016 suggests that the testing standard (AS 4964) applied by National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA) cannot absolutely certify the absence of asbestos, and further confirming testing techniques that exist outside of the Australian Standard may be required. While some of these techniques are available in Australia, no Australian laboratory is currently accredited by NATA to undertake them.

The report elsewhere states: “The International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) facilitates the process of mutual recognition agreements between NATA and equivalent authorities overseas. This allows for the accreditation of overseas laboratories to the Australian Standard, but very few laboratories that The International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) facilitates the process of mutual recognition agreements between NATA and equivalent authorities overseas. This allows for the accreditation of overseas laboratories to the Australian Standard, but very few laboratories seek this accreditation”.

So, delays at redline and in drawing samples and then in getting the testing done?

The onus to satisfy the query is on the importer and NATA testing is recommended. If the broker is not satisfied testing is also recommended. What happens if the broker is satisfied (a brave man in these times) and found to be wrong?

Where asbestos occurs in goods it is not uniformly distributed. Testing results depend on the reliability of sampling. This means that different samples of the same goods can provide different results when samples are taken from different parts of those goods. For example, the reason that asbestos was found in the crayon case was that all the colours in the set were tested. I understand not all showed the presence of asbestos.

Reliable sampling is critical to ensure sound testing and evidence methodologies are followed if non-compliance can lead to penalties or prosecution. A competent person takes samples in accordance with relevant WHS laws. The KGH report advises that the ABF does not have a standard guidance on sampling for customs purposes to provide that competent person.

This article is not to under emphasise the seriousness of the danger that asbestos represents to our community. It is a suggestion to properly target areas of concern and rethink the extent of this profiling. Perhaps then some of the ABF’s limited resources can be better targeted to other areas.