Between 1945 and 1975, Australia was the largest consumer of asbestos products per capita in the world. We mined it, manufactured it and used it extensively across the country. Lauded for its versatility, asbestos was attractive to many industries, particularly construction. Exposure to dust was considered a normal part of the job.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that we started to realise its carcinogenic consequences. In the late 1980s, most states had proscribed the use of asbestos in building products. In December 2003, a national ban on the use of any chrysotile asbestos was introduced. But for many, it was too late.
The first wave
The first wave of asbestos-related illness hit those exposed on a daily basis – the miners, millers and transport workers. Their working life was clouded with asbestos dust. Particles were inhaled and swallowed, clasping to the lungs and abdomen. Even families were at risk. Loving wives developed asbestos-related illness through washing their husbands’ work clothes. Dust control measures were slowly implemented, but for many, the damage was already done.
The second wave
The workers using products containing asbestos were next to fall victim. The tradesmen, construction workers, mechanics, insulators and plumbers – anyone who cut, fitted, dismantled or dislodged a material containing asbestos fell into the second wave. Asbestos was ubiquitous in the construction industry due to its durability, flexibility and affordability. Although most governments were quick to ban its use once its health impacts were discovered, the fibres already inhaled couldn’t be removed.
The third wave
And now asbestos is rearing its ugly head again – the third wave. In Australia, it’s estimated that 30% of all houses contain asbestos. Sometimes it’s visible. Sometimes it’s not. Asbestos products installed throughout the 50s and 60s by second wave workers have remained sealed, undisturbed and relatively safe. But now, as much as two-thirds of the asbestos installed during this time is coming to the end of its lifetime. As it deteriorates, it becomes friable and when disturbed, releases carcinogenic asbestos-fibres into the air. This is when asbestos is most dangerous.
Home renovators on the rise
In the last 12 months, close to 62% of Australian home owners did some form of home renovation – Aussies like Julie and Don Sager. A simple sanding job in their first home was all it took to expose their 18-month-old son Adam to asbestos particles. He was just 25 when he lost his battle with mesothelioma.
As the popularity of DIY home modifications spikes, so too does the risk of asbestos fibres entering the air. And as the Sager’s story shows, it’s not just workers who are at risk.
Per capita, Australia has the highest reported incidence of asbestos-related disease in the world, including the highest number of mesothelioma cases. Since the 1980s, at least 10,000 Australians have died from mesothelioma and every 14 hours, another loses their battle. Asbestos-related diseases have no known cure. Life expectancy after diagnosis is just 10 – 12 months.
Raising awareness for residential renovators
We have comprehensive safety laws surrounding asbestos products in schools, workplaces and hospitals. But what about our homes? Prevention is key when it comes to asbestos. We need to raise awareness of the risks posed by home modifications and educate on how to carry them out safely.
When it comes to asbestos, you can’t smell it, you can’t taste it and often you can’t see it. If you’re planning to renovate, you should always have the area tested by a qualified professional, particularly high-risk areas such as bathrooms, kitchens or laundries. And it’s not just inside the house that could put you at risk – asbestos was also commonly used in roofing, guttering, downpipes and fences. If any asbestos is identified, always have it removed by a professional asbestos-removal service.
Putting a stop to the third wave
Asbestos-related illnesses are no longer confined to men who spent their lives toiling in mines. The third wave has spread throughout society, threatening our mothers, fathers, neighbours and friends. But prevention is possible. By raising awareness and implementing strong safe management practices throughout residential communities, we can work to keep the third wave at bay.
Have you been exposed?
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, help is available. Although nothing can undo the harm, compensation may be available to help you access medical treatment and support of the best quality. Shine Lawyers are asbestos compensation claim experts and have a proven track record in obtaining results for our clients.
Written by Shine Lawyers on . Last modified: December 1, 2017.