There is likely to be a marked increase in the number of asbestos-related diseases reported in NSW over the coming years, a doctor based in the state has claimed.
Exposure to asbestos can cause a range of illnesses, including mesothelioma, asbestosis and silicosis. These diseases are sometimes fatal; statistics from the Australian Mesothelioma Registry showed 626 people died from mesothelioma in 2015.
Doctor Ray Jones, talking to ABC News, said a man called Ffloyd Laurie recently passed away after being diagnosed with mesothelioma. Mr Laurie was the first person to die from the disease in Baryulgil, near Grafton, who hadn't worked for the nearby James Hardie mine.
In fact, Mr Laurie's only exposure was said to be him playing around with asbestos tailings – solid waste containing asbestos – while at Baryulgil Public School.
Are there more mesothelioma cases to come?
Dr Jones, who worked at Grafton's Aboriginal Medical Service for 15 years, believes Mr Laurie's case is just the tip of the iceberg, adding that incidences of mesothelioma will peak in 2020.
"There has been a substantial number of people who were children in Baryulgil at the time when the asbestos mine was running, who were exposed to unbelievable amounts of asbestos at school and at home," he explained.
"So you'd expect there now to be plethora of asbestos-related cancers arising from the children who played at that school 40 years ago."
Dr Scott Monaghan, another local medical practitioner, told ABC News that the risks of mesothelioma were presented to federal government in 1984. The government laid many areas with asphalt and topsoil to combat the problem.
"But one of the issues that was raised in that report was that asbestos, being a natural fibre, will work its way to the surface," Dr Monaghan stated. "Either by ants or by eroding of the topsoil or asphalt being eroded away."
Asbestos problems aren't isolated to Baryulgil and many more communities across NSW may begin reporting a rise in people suffering from mesothelioma and other diseases.
Many asbestos-related illnesses have long latency periods, meaning people who were exposed decades ago may only start showing symptoms now.
However, compensation could be available for individuals who are diagnosed with such diseases. For example, Mr Laurie reached a settlement with the Department of Education just days before succumbing to his illness.
If you would like to discuss mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases, please contact a member of our team at Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers.