Australian Asbestos Use

Australia, like many other industrial countries around the world, commonly used asbestos throughout the twentieth century. Asbestos was popular because it was an affordable material that had some appealing properties. It was highly resilient to heat, cold, and water. That and the durability of the material made it an effective insulator. Asbestos was as a fixture at many industries in Australia.

Dangers of Asbestos

Asbestos was very common in the construction businesses in Australia. In the 1940s, it became a common method of insulation. Asbestos was used in floors, ceilings, and walls. It was used in homes, schools, offices, factories, and many other buildings. It was also a prominent fireproofing material in the shipping industry. Not only was it used in the floors and ceilings, but also to insulate pipes, boilers, and other materials on the ships. The gas and exhaust systems also often contained asbestos. Estimates suggest that large ships in Australia may have contained more than a thousand tons of asbestos and materials containing it. Because of the widespread use, many asbestos mines were active in the country during the 20th century.

Of course, asbestos is now known as a material that leads to major health problems like mesothelioma or lung cancer. There is some evidence that people knew of this danger as far back as the early 1900s, but nothing was done. It wasn’t until the 1970s that many Australians became fully aware of the dangers of asbestos. At that time, mines started to shut down. Asbestos was no longer exported and companies started to find materials that could replace it. However, the damage was already done.

Mesothelioma in Australia

Australia has the worst per capita rate of mesothelioma in the world. Even though mining and asbestos use was largely halted, the full impact is just now being felt. Asbestos use was gradually phased out, but was still used in some products only a few years ago.  Many people who lived near or worked in the mines became afflicted with the disease, and many died. One town in particular, Wittenoom, was once a thriving town. However, it was mostly known for asbestos mining. As a result, the town is essentially gone now. Only a few residents remain, but the government no longer provides service to them.

Australia has taken steps to measure the full effect of asbestos and mesothelioma. The country established an organization in 1986 to create a comprehensive registry of cases. Due to the long latency period of mesothelioma, the full impact might not be known for many more years.


Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia