Sadly, within Australia there are two new mesothelioma cases diagnosed each day
Last month Pat Underwood would have turned 69. Pat worked in the building game all his life. Pat was considered a good builder, but wasn’t a good business man and never made the big time, nevertheless him and Moira raised four kids. Pat also enjoyed a beer with mates, and often helped out on bottle drives for the local scout group of which his kids were members.
Like many Australian builders of this era, Pat frequently worked with “Fibro,” a name commonly used for Asbestos Cement Sheeting. Fibro was in common use in the building game for exterior walls, internal ceilings and walls particularly in wet areas such as bathrooms and kitchens, and in corrugated form was used for roofing and fences.
On a daily basis, Pat would have handled, sawn, and sanded Fibro. Over a 30 year period, he would have breathed in the fibres regularly.
When he was 64, Pat said he would retire at the end of the following year. He never made it. Just before what would have been his 65th birthday, Pat died a painful death due to mesothelioma.
Breathing in asbestos fibres can cause asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.
People who get health problems due to inhaling asbestos have usually been exposed to the deadly fibres for a lengthy period. Symptoms may not appear for 20 or 30 years.
James Hardie quit manufacturing asbestos in the early 1980’s, and in 2002 they shifted company headquarters to Holland to try and dodge legal obligations.
After the first common law claim in 1975, and major court battles in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Hardie’s in 2007 was forced to set up a fund of $4 billion to cover its future obligations to victims of these deadly diseases.
In May 2012 the High Court of Australia found that seven former James Hardie non executive directors had misled the Stock Exchange over the asbestos victims compensation fund. It was also found that board members and senior executives had knowledge of the lethal dangers of exposure to these deadly fibres.
The legal struggle is still not completely over, and cases are still being heard.
While asbestos has been banned in Australia for nine years, governments are just coming to grips about the enormity of removing it from our environment.
If you are concerned about asbestos in your home or workplace, you should contact your local council or Dept of the Environment (or equivalent authority) for guidelines.
In many forms there is no danger from asbestos, it is purely a respiratory problem, and there are strict rules for its safe handling and disposal.
Sadly, within Australia there are two new mesothelioma cases diagnosed each day, and there are around 600 asbestos-related deaths reported each year. This is expected to peak by the year 2020, when 18,000 people will have died from inhaling asbestos fibres.
A recent telemovie on the ABC, ” Devil’s Dust ” highlighted the cover-up about the health risks of asbestos, and the fight for justice for the victims.
In the UK asbestos was banned in the late 1970’s and only now are deaths from mesothelioma peaking. Australia is now into the third wave of asbestos victims, with DIY home renovators amongst the most vulnerable. The compensation bill is expected to top $7 billion in today’s money.