Western Australia’s diagnosis rate of the asbestos-related disease mesothelioma is the worst in the nation with 95 people being told last year they were suffering from the deadly illness.
At a rate of 3.9 people per capita (100,000 people), WA’s incidence of mesothelioma is higher than Victoria (1.8) and New South Wales (1.8) put together. The national rate of newly diagnosed cases in 2013 was 2.2, with Queensland and South Australia being 2.6 and 2.5 respectively.
The figures were revealed in the report Mesothelioma in Australia 2013 recently released by the Australian Mesothelioma Registry, an organisation funded by Safe Work Australia and Comcare.
Lawyer Simon Millman from leading asbestos law firm Slater and Gordon said it was tragic that 575 Australians last year – 465 men and 110 women – received the awful news that they had a terminal disease.
“As a lawyer who has represented victims and their families I’ve seen the terrible impacts of asbestos-related diseases which are some of the most insidious illnesses someone can suffer,” he said.
“When a person is diagnosed with mesothelioma they face a life-ending prognosis, so it’s sad to know that nearly 100 more Western Australians and their loved ones are dealing with this devastating news.
“The Wittenoom mine may have closed down nearly five decades ago, but the legacy of its deadly dust is still affecting us to this very day and it will continue to be a danger as long as it remains in our homes and workplaces.”
Meredith Hammat, UnionsWA Secretary, said it was alarming that nearly two in three people diagnosed with mesothelioma since 2010 were likely to have been exposed at work.
“The research has shown that occupational asbestos exposure was the likely cause of mesothelioma for nearly 61 per cent of 350 sufferers profiled since 2010,” she said.
“As the recent incident on Rottnest Island highlights, we have an abundance of asbestos used in schools and homes throughout Western Australia.
“The deadly risk of this being unleashed by renovations or accidents puts lives at risk.
“Asbestos was mined in Western Australia for over 20 years, with much of the product going into West Australian houses and buildings.”
Mr Millman said many younger sufferers of asbestos-related diseases were being diagnosed.
“With a 30 to 40 year lag between exposure and diagnosis, it was predictable that the majority of new cases identified in this report were in the 65 and over age bracket, but regrettably nearly 20 per cent of new cases were people under 65,” he said.
“Clearly, asbestos is still a significant issue for our community as we are now seeing a ‘third wave’ of victims, consisting mainly of home renovators and also people being exposed as children.
“The ‘first wave’ was largely manufacturers and miners and the ‘second wave’ was tradies and construction workers who were exposed to asbestos fibres in building materials.
“While it is encouraging to see in the report that the number of mesothelioma diagnoses had dropped from 652 in 2012 to 575 in 2013, it doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels.
“Authorities must act to rid asbestos from our communities and protect people and workers from being exposed.”