“Third Wave” Asbestos Exposure Proving Deadly for Australians

The Australian, an online magazine serving Sydney and the surrounding areas, reports that most Australians believe their struggles with asbestos exposure ended with the closing of the Wittenoom Mine and the asbestos ban that followed. However, the story is far from over, as individuals are learning that asbestos exposure victims includes a larger demographic than originally believed. According to The Australian, the country’s current battle with asbestos exposure and related illnesses has taken on a different look. The news source explains that “The latest image looks like this: a young woman with asbestos-related cancer who, as a preschooler, played in asbestos rubble. Or a 29-year-old woman whose exposure could only be traced to a classroom with known asbestos hazards.” Also included in this revised portrait of Australian asbestos exposure victims is “a couple like Irene and Harold Worth, sitting in the bustling waiting room of the Asbestos Diseases Society in Perth, nervously holding hands, thinking back over the renovations they did to their family home,” The Australian reports.  The article explains that Irene is part of a “third wave” of asbestos exposure victims that “didn't work in an asbestos products factory or a mine.” This group of “third-wave” sufferers of asbestos-related illnesses, such as mesothelioma, is comprised of those who underwent less intense exposure. This includes those who completed do-it-yourself home renovations or worked in classrooms with asbestos materials, Professor Bruce Robinson, a Perth chest physician, explains. According to Robinson, millions have been exposed in these manners. That this low-level type of exposure has proven to be dangerous strengthens the argument that there is no “safe” level of asbestos exposure. The news source focuses on one do-it-yourselfer in particular: 66-year-old Irene Worth, who was recently diagnosed with mesothelioma. Irene explains that “twenty-seven years ago [she] helped her husband with the sheets of asbestos [they] used to renovate [their] house.” Irene held the sheets of asbestos while her husband cut them, and then swept up the dangerous fibers afterwards. The article goes on to explain that a paper in the Medical Journal of Australia “revealed that home renovators are growing casualties among the more than 700 Australians diagnosed with deadly mesothelioma each year.” More specifically, the report found that between 2004 and 2008 the renovator group “had crept up to 8.4 percent of all afflicted men and 35.7 percent of all women, up 3 and 5 percent in the 1990s.” The study also revealed that “the lag (or latency period) between exposure and onset of illness was ‘significantly shorter than for all the other exposure groups.’” And that it was “Only partly explained by earlier diagnosis of the condition or faulty memory about when the exposure occurred.” The Australian interviewed Counselor Rose Marie Vojakovic, a member of the Asbestos Diseases Society, who claimed she “sees three or four new mesothelioma cases a week,” including children. “We’re seeing children of parents who so innocently renovated around them,” she explains, also noting that they have “cases of wives who got mesothelioma simply from home renovations done 30 or 40 years ago.” The counselor currently has approximately 140 mesothelioma cases to look over, explaining “it’s a really serious problem.” Currently, The Australian reports that researchers need “$23 million to progress their search for a cure.” However, until a cure or more effective treatments are available, professionals like Vojakovic do what they can to spread awareness and help those who have been diagnosed. The Australian goes on to explain that Vojakovic, “now 68, has postponed retirement as more third-wave victims arrive at the Asbestos Diseases Society’s door.”  According to Vojakovic, “There are times when you feel overwhelmed and think, ‘When is this going to end?’” However, she explains that “every time a new person walks through the door or the phone call comes in, you go, ‘Right, here we go again, I must give it my best.’”
Laurie, Victoria. (October 22, 2011) “Death by DIY.” Retrieved on November 1, 2011, from The Australian.
Previous: Asbestos Discovered and Contained in Chicago-area School Next: Controversial Zimbabwe Asbestos Mine Reportedly Reopening