Indigenous West Australians have the highest death rate for malignant mesothelioma in the world

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-06/indigenous-west-australians-highest-mesothelioma-rate-study/7575240

July 08, 2016 at 2:39 PM

Indigenous West Australians have the highest death rate for malignant mesothelioma in the world, a study into asbestos-related diseases has found.

Malignant mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer that can develop following inhalation or ingestion of asbestos spores.

The condition affects the membrane lining of the lungs and abdomen and can take a number of years to develop after first exposure.

The University of Western Australia study also found 67 per cent of mesothelioma cases affecting Indigenous West Australians could be linked directly to asbestos mining at the Wittenoom Gorge in the Pilbara.

Senior research fellow Peter Franklin said this was likely due to higher exposure by people involved in the transport of asbestos at the site, who were mostly Aboriginal.

"It was quite well known that Aboriginal people did work in the mine and often they were given the jobs that other people didn't want to do," Dr Franklin said.

This often involved moving hessian sacks containing raw asbestos more than 300 kilometres to storage areas at Roebourne, before they were shipped to Perth from Point Samson or Port Hedland.

President of the Asbestos Diseases Society Robert Vojakovic, who also worked at Wittenoom, said they were never provided with any safety equipment.

"I was never given any mask ... the Indigenous people were not given anything," he said.
"The roads to Point Samson and Roebourne were pretty rough, there was a lot of pot holes ... when they came back to Roebourne they would be grey from all the asbestos."

Between 1943 and 1966 nearly 7,000 people worked at the mine, which was operated by Australia Blue Asbestos Company.

Hundreds seek compensation

More than 300 former workers have died from malignant mesothelioma, according to Dr Franklin.

Slater and Gordon lawyer Simon Millman said there had been hundreds of compensation claims in relation to the Wittenoom operations.

"An employer owes an employee a duty of care to take reasonable care not to expose them to illness and injury, and that's the basis for the claims of people from Wittenoom," he said.

Those who had previously had claims filed against them included Australia Blue Asbestos Company, CSR Limited, the Shire of Ashburton and the Western Australian Government.

 

Mr Vojakovic said he was disappointed there was not more effort made to clean it up.

"The Government didn't do much to clean the place up ... this a beautiful area, this is their [Banyjima traditional owners] ancestral home.

"But it's not the fault of the government 100 per cent, it's the fault of the people [mining companies] that didn't clean up after themselves."

Dr Franklin said the number of malignant mesothelioma exposure cases was expected to decline in coming years.

"But that's not to say there may be more cases in the future because of previous exposure," he said.

 

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