There has been a rash of reports of asbestos exposure in New South Wales and throughout Australia, which is prompting many officials to remind the public that even minor run-ins with the material can have serious consequences.
From construction projects to mining operations and even simple home renovations, asbestos is turning up everywhere. Take, for example, 74-year-old Norma Ryan, who recently learned that exposure to the carcinogenic material led to her case of mesothelioma some 65 years later.
Ms Ryan was recently diagnosed with the rare form of lung cancer, which she can trace back to when she used to handle the fibre as a child, and then again when doing work on her house.
“When we bought our first home, some time during the ’60s, I decided to rub down an asbestos fence to prepare it for painting, which is the worst thing you can do,” she told In My Community.
“I wasn’t educated about asbestos back then, but I certainly am now and I want to educate others.”
Ms Ryan said she thought asbestos-related diseases, including asbestosis, were the result of long-term exposure. But her case shows it doesn’t take much to cause serious health problems.
Industrial asbestos exposure
Far too often, asbestos exposure is linked to workplace conditions in the construction and mining industries. Although the material fell out of widespread use in Australia by the late 1980s, decades of use prior means workers often come into contact with the material.
This is currently a serious problem for global mining company Rio Tinto, which has proposed building a new rail line through the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Construction would partially take place in the ghost town of Wittenoom, which is known to be laden with asbestos.
Construction workers would likely come from the Shire of Ashburton, which has stated it wants indemnity from any legal cases if the railway is indeed built through the asbestos-filled town.
Closer to home
But it’s not just in the remote destinations of Western Australia that asbestos is causing problems. As recently as last week Sydney Ports management teams said repair workers at a cruise terminal were in danger of asbestos exposure.
Although it was bonded-asbestos, which is not as dangerous as other forms, Sydney Ports says it is still taking precautions to keep workers safe.