Until around the mid-1980s, Australia had one of the highest rates of asbestos-related illnesses (per capita) in the world. Although the mineral was once touted for its affordability, ease of use, and resistance to heat fire, millions of people worldwide have developed toxic, life-threatening illnesses after coming into contact with asbestos.
Asbestos in Australia
Numerous asbestos mines sit in Australia, which made it easy for businesses to extract it and sell it to a myriad of businesses. Mining reached its heights in Australia from the 1930s throughout the 1960s, especially in the town of Wittenoom. As more studies developed about the dangers of asbestos, Australia began regulating laws on banning the mineral in the 1960s, starting with blue asbestos. In the mid-1980s, brown asbestos was banned, followed by white asbestos in the 2000s.
Prior to its ban, asbestos and asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) were used to build most homes in Australia. Over a third of the homes in Australia to this day contain asbestos. The toxic mineral was also used on a number of job sites, including textile mills, repair facilities, manufacturing plants, power plants, and more.
Although it’s been years since asbestos was used prominently, people are still dying from its toxic effects. The Australian Mesothelioma Registry reports that there were 614 asbestos-related deaths in 2014 alone. This number is expected to grow and reach its peak around 2021. According to Professor Peto of the University of Melbourne, both Australia and the UK have the highest incidences of asbestos-related deaths in the world. In fact, Peto predicts that asbestos deaths will reach to around 25,000 within the next 40 years. He stated that,
“The hazards in manufacturing, lagging and shipbuilding were recognised, but the much larger workforce in construction went on being heavily exposed with no effective regulation at all. Australian builders, particularly carpenters, often had to cut asbestos cement board with power tools, which caused very high dust levels.”
The following occupations have the highest risk of developing asbestos-related diseases:
- Railroad workers
- Factory and plant workers
- Construction workers
- Insulation installers and technicians
How Does Asbestos Cause Toxic Illnesses?
Asbestos fibres are thin, odourless, and undetectable to the human eye. When these tiny fibres become airborne, they are easily inhaled and/or ingested as they permeate through the air.
Once asbestos fibres are ingested or inhaled, it’s impossible for the body to dispel of them all. Over time, the fibres attach to the surrounding areas of major organs and start irritate organ linings. Eventually, these irritations turn into life-threatening illnesses such as asbestosis, asbestos-related lung cancer, or malignant mesothelioma.
What Can Be Done About Asbestos Exposure?
With the high amount of mesothelioma cases popping up due to negligent exposure to asbestos, many victims of the lethal mineral have opted to file lawsuits against asbestos manufacturers and other companies responsible for providing ACMs to job sites. As more and more people become aware of just how dangerous asbestos is, these lawsuits are projected to grow significantly.
In the meantime, workers, as well as people who live in older homes, should always practice caution and safety. If your work around asbestos, make sure to always:
- Wear protective gear, such as a HEPA-filtered face mask and protective coveralls
- Enroll in asbestos awareness training courses (employers are required to provide training to employees who work around asbestos)
- Do not bring home any tools or clothing that came into contact with asbestos
If you live in an older home,
- Do not allow your children to play around old furnaces or in attics
- Do not attempt to repair old appliances yourself until your home has been inspected for asbestos
- Never start a renovation project without having your home checked for asbestos first
If you think you may have come into contact with asbestos, it’s extremely important to get routine medical checkups. Detecting asbestos-related diseases as early as possible offers the best chances of successful treatment.
Special thanks to Tara Connor for writing this article. For more information please visit MesotheliomaLawyerCenter.org
For more information on Asbestos Removal Training Courses please visit: https://alertforce.com.au/ohs-training-courses/asbestos-awareness/