Together, we can truly make asbestos a thing of the past.

November is National Asbestos Awareness Month, an opportunity to reflect on the many lives we have lost to asbestos-related diseases and to educate the community about the ongoing risk of asbestos exposure.

When we think of asbestos, many of us think of it as something from the past, a so-called "wonder product" condemned to the dustbin of history once its deadly properties were exposed. The reality is very different. Asbestos continues to pose a real and present danger.

The NSW Heads of Asbestos Coordination Authorities [HACA] estimate that one in three homes across out State contains asbestos, most likely including every home built before 1987. Until that time, asbestos was ubiquitous in our homes and workplaces, despite the fact that experts knew of its dangers.

Between 1930 and 1983, 1.5 million tonnes of asbestos was imported into Australia, much of it used in the materials that built our houses, garden sheds, workplaces, schools and hospitals. It was used in insulation, cement boards, guttering, carpet underlays, fibro boards, roofing materials, pipes and electrical wires, tiles and vinyl flooring, and in gyprock compound and putty.

While much of this asbestos is safe if left undisturbed, each time we renovate our homes we run the risk of exposure if we do not take proper precautions.

Far too many Australians face the risk of asbestos exposure at work. Unions NSW estimates that more than 1,000 Australians die from asbestos-related disease each year, the vast bulk of whom are workers exposed while doing their job. Historically, the highest rates of diagnosis have been amongst men—asbestos miners and waterside workers who loaded asbestos on the frontline. Electricians, engineers, plumbers, railroad workers, sheet metalworkers, welders and mechanics have also had high levels of diagnosis due to exposure to asbestos-laced products.

Worryingly, Australia is now seeing a third wave of diagnoses, with younger people, including women, having being exposed to asbestos dust as children, sometimes from their father's overalls.

It is expected that rates of malignant mesothelioma will rise. The United Kingdom's mesothelioma centre noted that Australia has the second highest rate of deaths from this disease in the world. Experts predict that this rise will be spurred by a fourth wave of diagnoses due to the boom in do-it-yourself renovations posing additional risks to asbestos exposure.

Unions have a proud record of protecting workers from asbestos—successfully campaigning to ban asbestos in workplaces in 2004 and currently fighting to ban the importation of asbestos, with the deadly material still arriving in products from overseas.Unions have fought to establish compensation for victims and the families who are left devastated and often destitute.

For decades the Dust Diseases Board was a critical source of comfort and security for victims and their families. However, despite the continuing threat of asbestos, the board is now slated for abolition by the Baird Government. The board connects families with much needed support. It helps with medical appointments, makes travel arrangements, provides oxygen generators, helps with bills and even mows lawns. It also helps to organise funerals, and supports widows and children who are left behind, some of whom will face their own battle with mesothelioma and asbestos-related disease.

The board is a helping hand to those in need at the most difficult time in their life. The Government's decision to abolish the board can only be seen as a short-sighted and cruel decision.

So, too, is the Baird Government's failure to include white asbestos in the definition of loose-fill insulation in the recent Home Building and Duties Amendment (Loose-fill Asbestos Insulation Affected Premises) Bill 2015.

While the bill was a welcome attempt to protect the safety of home owners and tradespeople, it is ineffective without the inclusion of white asbestos in the definition of loose-fill insulation.

The unfortunate reality we must face is that the rate of asbestos-related disease will climb, particularly as home owners continue to risk exposure.

I applaud the work of unions, local councils, organisations and activists who fight every day to educate the community about the dangers of asbestos. I also encourage all New South Wales residents to visit to learn more about how they can protect themselves and their families from asbestos exposure.

Together, we can truly make asbestos a thing of the past.