International Impact

How Asbestos Changes Lives Forever

Written By:
Sep 04, 2019
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Written By: Lorraine Kember,
September 4, 2019

If there’s one word that can strike fear into the hearts of many Australians, it’s asbestos.

Seemingly innocuous when first mined in the 1940s, the mineral was regarded as the miracle fiber of the 20th century. But today it’s a known carcinogen, responsible for cancers such as mesothelioma and the untimely deaths of thousands of men and women in Australia and around the world.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates there to be more than 100,000 deaths related to asbestos each year with 125 million workers currently exposed to the deadly fiber. The long latency period between exposure to asbestos and the onset of mesothelioma symptoms makes the cancer difficult to diagnose and treat.

Despite the known dangers of asbestos, several countries continue to mine and export the mineral.

Australia relied on asbestos for decades. The use of crocidolite (blue) asbestos — the deadliest type — was banned in 1967, but the Australian government didn’t ban chrysotile (white) asbestos until 2003.

Danger still lurks in hundreds of older homes and businesses across the country. Deteriorating walls and roofs constructed of fibro asbestos sheeting are now friable, capable of exposing anyone near to toxic fibers if the materials are disturbed in any way.

Since it is impossible to remove all of the asbestos, Australian’s have had to learn how to co-exist with it. Thanks to the diligence of many, the danger of asbestos and the deadly consequence of exposure is well known.

However, there are those who choose to ignore the warnings. They may have a, “It won’t happen to me” attitude, or carry a blatant disregard for the health and well-being of others.

Asbestos Used in Suspected Sabotage Attempt

In July, Woodside Energy, which delivers one-third of Australia’s oil and gas, called in Western Australian police to investigate what it believed to be industrial sabotage.

Contractors discovered chrysotile asbestos fibers in and around a number of gaskets at Woodside’s gas processing plant in Karratha.

The materials in question were removed and a thorough search was conducted, but no further contamination was found.

Sabotage fears were then raised when more asbestos was reportedly discovered in the areas that had been cleaned up following the search.

“There are some highly unusual and suspicious aspects to the timing and location of gasket materials, with additional discoveries following thorough sweeps of the discovery areas,” a Woodside spokeswoman said.

Woodside Petroleum has been called upon to complete a sitewide audit of the Karratha gas plant following the incident. This, however, has done little to ease the concerns of workers who believe they may have been exposed to the deadly mineral.

For them, the asbestos is out of sight but definitely not out of mind. They live in fear that the possible exposure could lead to mesothelioma or other conditions decades from now.

The Invisible Victims of Asbestos

Every day it seems we hear of the illegal dumping of tons of asbestos waste on road verges, industrial sites and vacant land around the world.

As the number of people who die from asbestos-related disease increases, an even greater number of men and women’s lives are changed forever.

Husbands, wives, children, sisters, brothers, nephews, nieces, friends — the list goes on.

These “invisible victims” of asbestos are forced to witness their loved ones suffer and die from mesothelioma and then start the heartbreaking journey of learning to live without them.

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