A Slater and Gordon lawyer has called on authorities to take urgent action to address the tragic legacy of a Sunshine North asbestos products factory, which has been linked to more than 20 environmental exposure cases.
A Herald Sun investigation has found 16 people who lived in a one kilometre radius of the Wunderlich factory have died from asbestos-related diseases – including asbestosis and mesothelioma – and another eight people have become seriously ill.
The Wunderlich factory was originally owned by the German Wunderlich brothers. CSR – which also owned Western Australia’s Wittenoom mine and was at the centre of one of Australia’s worst environmental disasters – ran the factory from 1969 to 1977 before selling to James Hardie. The factory ceased operations in the early 1980s.
Senior asbestos lawyer Margaret Kent said Slater and Gordon had represented many Wunderlich victims in their fight for compensation.
“As a resident of the western suburbs, it occurred to me in recent years that many of our asbestos clients were from a small pocket of Sunshine North,” Ms Kent said.
“These people did not work at the Wunderlich factory, yet they became ill because companies failed to carry out their environmental obligations. The residents, including young children, breathed in the asbestos that polluted the air around their homes and schools.
“Mothers were exposed as they walked their children to and from school, children became ill as they rode their bikes past the factory or played in the mounds of asbestos behind the site.
“Tragically, some of my clients died. Others are still fighting asbestos-related illnesses. Sadly, others may be diagnosed in the future. It’s an absolute tragedy.”
Ms Kent called on CSR and James Hardie to be good corporate citizens and ensure any current and future claims are dealt with in a timely manner.
“Our clients should be concentrating on their heath and spending what precious little time they have with their families rather than preparing for trial. It’s a waste of their time and money and a waste of the court’s resources,” she said.
Ms Kent also called for the area to be tested and for any asbestos still present to be safely removed.
“Melbourne’s west is a vibrant and diverse community. Thousands, including myself, call this area home. Thankfully, the Wunderlich factory is gone, it has left a tragic legacy in Sunshine North and residents deserve peace of mind.
“We can’t change what happened in the past, but we can ensure that residents are never again put at risk.
“Australia-wide we also need to do more. Even though asbestos is banned, it still exists in our community. Homes and buildings still contain asbestos and we need a national campaign to make people aware of the potential dangers of asbestos.”