The use or import of asbestos has been banned in Australia since 2003, but the danger and consequences of exposure to this deadly substance are still very much present in everyday life.
This November, we recognise Asbestos Awareness Month – a time to raise awareness around identifying and handling asbestos products and recognise the ongoing struggle of those at risk of, or suffering from, an asbestos-related disease.
A report on mesothelioma released by the Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing (AIHW) earlier this year reveals insights into the legacy of asbestos use in our country and areas for improvement to prevent future generations from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
Mesothelioma is a cancer that develops in the mesothelium, a protective membrane that covers most of the body's internal organs. The primary cause of mesothelioma is exposure to asbestos dust or fibres.
It’s thought that when asbestos fibres are inhaled or ingested, they pierce the mesothelial lining, causing cells to react abnormally and usually results in scarring or inflammation.
There are different types of mesothelioma. Pleural mesothelioma, the most common type, starts in the membrane that covers the lungs. Peritoneal mesothelioma, which accounts for about 10% of cases, develops in the lining of the abdomen.
Symptoms can differ depending on the type of mesothelioma you are diagnosed with. Early warning signs can include a cough, shortness of breath and shoulder or abdominal pain.
It can take decades for symptoms of mesothelioma to appear, meaning that workers who were exposed as far back as the 1960s – well before the material was banned – are only now being diagnosed.
Unfortunately, as symptoms don’t appear for so long, the cancer often isn’t picked up until its later stages, severely affecting the life expectancy and treatment options for the person diagnosed.
For Tom Hugo, a career plumber, mesothelioma symptoms, including shortness of breath, only developed more than 20 years after he retired.
“Throughout my whole working career, I had dealings with asbestos. It was sometimes an everyday occurrence. I never knew there was a problem with it,” said Tom.
We helped Tom successfully claim against a former employer and a manufacturer of the asbestos product that he worked with and was exposed to.
Sadly, Tom has recently lost his fight with mesothelioma. Before he passed away, Tom used his precious time to bravely share his story to raise awareness of the devastating impacts mesothelioma has on people’s lives.
Banning the use of asbestos will certainly help to protect younger Australians from the level of exposure that older generations experience, but there are still risks.
Asbestos products were used widely from the 1950s to the 1980s and still exist today in many homes, and as budget-friendly “DIY” home renovations increase in popularity, so too does the risk of disturbing asbestos products.
Worryingly, one in three Australian homes still contain asbestos, so if you’re thinking of renovating, it’s important you understand the risks and how to avoid exposure.
The AIHW data shows that over 2010 – 2021, around 12% of mesothelioma cases were only work-related, whereas more than 35% were from solely non-occupational exposure – including exposure in the home.
Education campaigns, like Asbestos Awareness Month, continue to be important to prevent another wave of mesothelioma cases in the future.
We may not be able to reverse the damage of decades past, but we can help to protect the next generation of Australians so that no one has to endure the pain and suffering of mesothelioma.
If you or someone you care about has been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, we encourage you to get in touch to talk about your options with one of our specialist dust diseases lawyers.
If you have been exposed to asbestos, you can register your exposure through our national register.
Our Canberra office is now closed, but our team continues to serve ACT clients and are available for phone and video appointments. If you need legal advice, please call us on 1800 675 346.
We have lawyers who specialise in a range of legal claims who travel to Tasmania. If you need a lawyer in Hobart, Launceston or elsewhere in Tasmania, please call us on 1800 675 346.