Asbestos cases on the rise, department warns

Date: Sep 06, 2011

Australians may be facing a third wave of asbestos-related health issues after it was found that an increasing number of homeowners performing domestic renovations may have been exposed to the hazardous material.

The Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) has released a study that details the rising number of diseases stemming from members of the public involving themselves in home improvement activities.

Asbestos has been used in manufacturing activities since the 1920s and was turned into a variety of products found commonly in dwellings across the country.

Many houses where made out of the resulting building materials, such as flat panelled cement sheeting – also known as ‘fibro’ – flooring underlays in bathrooms and the fireproof lining for gas heating flues.

On its own, asbestos is relatively inert and poses little harm to people. It is fireproof and does not emit dangerous fumes.

But when the material is disturbed, it breaks up into microscopic particles that can lodge in the membranes that line the lungs – sometimes leading to the cancer known as malignant mesothelioma (MM) which is universally fatal.

This means that asbestos poses a real danger to those involved in renovation projects on premises where the material is present.

The first wave of MM cases was reported in the workers responsible for milling the dangerous material – the second came from industries that handled the resulting products and installed them in a wide variety of building ventures.

Personal injury lawyers have launched successful claims against the manufacturers of products that include asbestos – which ceased production in Australia as recently as 1984.

Many of these cases have been settled out of court, with victims gaining access to compensation payments that assist with their ongoing medical treatments.

Some cases of MM have been linked to very low exposure levels to asbestos dust – usually resulting from either construction efforts or demolition procedures on sites where the material was present.

Once the disease has been confirmed, a compensation lawyer should be able to provide such victims with further information to assist them in deciding on the best course of legal action.

An increasing number of people have been diagnosed with MM over the years, with more than 200 cases reported in New South Wales in 2007.

Survival rates for people with malignant mesothelioma are poor – only 40 per cent of people survive one year after initial diagnosis and 4.5 per cent have been recorded to survive a further four years.

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