A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia todays says the increase in the number of malignant mesothelioma cases in Western Australia over the past decade is the result of home renovation and do-it-yourself (DIY) projects involving building products containing asbestos.
This domestic exposure has been described as part of the “third wave” of asbestos-related diseases, the first being in miners, millers and transport workers, and the second in workers who used asbestos products.
Clinical Professor of Respiratory Medicine and senior author of the paper, Bill Musk, discusses the risks to human health posed by asbestos.
When did we first find out about the harmful effect asbestos has on health?
We’ve known about it all for quite a while but it took a painfully long time for action to be taken. Asbestos was finally banned in Australia in 2003. The problem is the stuff that’s still out there.
Tell me about the study you’ve published today.
The West Australian Mesothelioma Registry has recorded every case of mesothelioma that has occurred in the state ever since the start of the epidemic in the early 1960s.
What we’ve been looking at is where asbestos exposure comes from. In the early period, the greatest proportion of the cases was people who were mining asbestos in the Wittenoom Gorge in Western Australia’s Pilbara Region.
With time, the number of cases from Wittenoom has stayed fairly level because the mines in Wittenoom were closed in 1966. They‘re still happening but the number of people at risk is reducing.
The second wave of cases of mesothelioma was in people who’d been using asbestos, such as carpenters and mechanics. Anybody who used asbestos as part of their trade was at risk and those cases have been getting proportionally greater.