The ongoing threat of asbestos in Australia

| September 7, 2018

Australia has a long history of asbestos usage for a variety of different purposes. Asbestos is most commonly known for its durability, low cost, and high resistance to heat, which made it a favorable component of many building materials. However, the effects it has on health were not discovered until the 1920s.

Asbestos is the primary cause of asbestosis and mesothelioma cancer. These health problems were unknown because of the long latency period for symptoms to develop. Fortunately, Australia made a complete ban of this deadly carcinogen in 2003. However, it is still causing damage to the Australian people, despite this ban.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a carcinogenic mineral that was used in many building materials during the 1900s. The word “asbestos” is actually a blanket term which includes six different types of mineral. These types are chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, actinolite, and anthophyllite, and they are all carcinogens.

Asbestos is divided into two categories, friable and non-friable. Non-friable asbestos is asbestos that has been mixed with another building material, such as cement. This type of asbestos was mostly used in foundation work as well as walls and ceilings.

Friable asbestos can be reduced to a powder and crumbles easily. This type of asbestos was used heavily in the insulation industry. Friable asbestos is more prone to releasing fibers that become airborne. These fibers then have the ability to be inhaled or ingested, causing health complications such as mesothelioma.

What is Mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that most commonly affects the lungs, but can also affect the heart and abdomen. The primary cause of this cancer is asbestos exposure. Asbestos fibers become lodged in the lining of the lungs, heart, or abdomen, causing inflammation and tumors to develop. Unfortunately, it takes a very long time for these symptoms to progress, typically around 20 to 50 years.

What makes matters even worse is that detecting and diagnosing mesothelioma is often a tedious and prolonged process. The symptoms of mesothelioma can mimic other diseases, and this leads to misdiagnosis. As new research is conducted and better treatment options become available, hopefully we will see survival rates increase amongst mesothelioma patients.

The treatment for mesothelioma often involves pain relief and ensuring that a patient can live as comfortably as possible. Mesothelioma is often diagnosed in later stages of development, it is difficult to properly treat.

There are many clinical trials for treatment, however, the amount of people selected for these trials can be very slim because of the rarity of the disease. The best-case scenario is that this cancer is detected early, and that a patient can undergo surgery along with chemotherapy and radiation to rid the body of this cancer and prohibit it from metastasizing.

Why is Asbestos still a problem in Australia?

Australia has one of the highest rates of asbestos usage in the world. The mineral was mined in Australia up until 1984, and it is suspected that around 1.5 million tonnes of asbestos was imported into Australia between 1930 and 1983.

With this much asbestos being used in Australia, it is believed that 1 out of every 3 homes has some type of asbestos-containing material. If you live in a home built prior to the 1990s, it is important to have your home tested for these materials.

Australia is still seeing people diagnosed with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Even though the mineral was banned in 2003, there is still asbestos lingering in older homes. As these homes begin to deteriorate or need repairs, harmful fibers are released.

Not only is this dangerous for homeowners, but this has had a huge effect on the health of construction and maintenance workers. These jobs are considered high risk for asbestos exposure since the people who are working on homes are the ones coming into contact with these fibers.

It was reported by the Australian Cancer Council that there were 759 new mesothelioma diagnoses in 2014. Unfortunately, this problem is not going away. Safe disposal of asbestos is the only way that this issue will disappear, and it is going to take time and awareness for asbestos to be completely eradicated from all homes across Australia.

What can you do to help?

National Mesothelioma Awareness Day (MAD) is held annually on September 26th. This is a day to recognize those who have lost their lives and remember loved ones who suffered from this disease. It is important that we share information about asbestos in order to recognize what it is and how it affects health.

The more knowledge people have about asbestos and mesothelioma, the more people will safely dispose of this dangerous mineral from their homes. Make sure to have your home tested for asbestos and do not perform renovation projects without consulting a trained professional.

As more people remediate asbestos-containing materials from homes and buildings, the amount of mesothelioma diagnoses will begin to decrease. With the current ban in place, hopefully we can see this terrible disease become a thing of the past.