Lung disease continues to be one of the world’s most common cancers with 2.09 million cases last year, according to the World Health Organisation.
Today (Thursday 1 August) is World Lung Cancer Day.
I joined Slater and Gordon because, as one of the first law firms in Australia to hold big business, big mining companies and big money to account on behalf of Australians who were suffering from Asbestosis and associated lung disease, I believed – and still do – that our work didn’t end with Wittenoom or James Hardie.
Asbestosis, Mesothelioma and associated lung diseases are a legacy that workers have inherited through no fault of their own and, despite the years, are still tearing families apart today. I am still seeing Australians with lung disease coming forward today.
I see people in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s who are diagnosed and don’t know how long they have left. They are men who worked in the mines and women who washed their dust-covered clothes.
They believe the reason they struggle to breathe now is because they worked in the mines or a factory where Asbestos dust and debris was strewn across their workplace.
While the mining of asbestos and the manufacture of asbestos products ceased many years ago, the legacy of asbestos will live on for generations, impacting the lives of grandchildren and great-grandchildren who lost their loved ones.
There are still too many Australians suffering after being diagnosed with mesothelioma and lung disease 40-50 years after their exposure. There is often a short window between diagnoses and the disease taking hold.
Mesothelioma results in a death that is not kind. It’s expensive given the level of care the person needs, and it is always a cruel, sad, needless goodbye.
This scourge was, to a point, preventable. The Wittenoom case proved that the company knew for years before that Asbestos was deadly but it cost money and time to protect their workers and the case found they did not do that.
At times it’s a race against the clock to ensure the family has their entitlements protected including the right to medical care before their loved one passes away.
I recently represented the wife of a deceased mesothelioma sufferer who was exposed to asbestos through his father who was a carpenter and worked with asbestos cement building products after visiting his worksite as a child. He was exposed later in life after working in the cement industry. I wish I could say this was the only case like this I have had but I can’t.
The bad news is there are about six different forms of lung cancer that can be caused by exposure to asbestos. One of the most malignant types is mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer that forms in the lining of the lungs.
While the mines and manufacturers of my childhood have disappeared, the use of asbestos products has disappeared because of government intervention and a recognition of how toxic asbestos is.
However, it lives on in our buildings, in our homes, schools and work sites.
In our desire to bash out the walls of our 50s/60s/70s do-er-uperers, we forget, or because we didn’t grow up with it, that the dust lies dormant in many of our homes. And because of this we are seeing a new wave.
The national renovating obsession brings with it a need for caution.
Check if you have asbestos walls or rooves in your house before you go knocking them out. Check if you need to protect yourselves, your neighbours and your contractors. Because no-one should ever have to go through what my clients and their families have to go through.
Joanne is our Asbestos State Practice Group Leader for New South Wales, and has been involved in many landmark decisions relating to compensation for Asbestos sufferers.
National Asbestos Exposure database
We have one of the largest databases of historical asbestos exposure details in the country, including workplaces and their instances of asbestos exposure, dangerous products, and historical witnesses. Our asbestos register makes any investigation we need to do into your exposure much simpler and more cost-effective.