The asbestos-linked cancer mesothelioma is growing at an alarming pace in part of Australia and the government is coming under fire for not doing enough to fight the source of the problem.
According to a report in the Australian newspaper The Herald Sun, the number of people killed by mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases in New South Wales will soon overtake the number of people killed in car accidents. Ombudsman Bruce Barbour told the newspaper that the annual total of accident victims of 397 in NSW in 2008 would soon be “dwarfed” by the number of people dying from asbestos cancers. By 2020, the country is expected to see 13,000 cases of mesothelioma annually and 40,000 cases of other asbestos-related cancers, one of the highest per capita rates in the world.
Equally disturbing for New South Wales is the fact that a growing number of mesothelioma cases and other asbestos caused cancers are occurring in people who were not exposed to asbestos through their occupation. Construction workers, various tradesmen and shipbuilders are known to be at high risk for mesothelioma because of the prevalence of asbestos in their industries. But in New South Wales, where an abandoned asbestos mine has been left largely untouched since 1983, younger people who have never worked in these industries are being diagnosed with mesothelioma.
According to the Herald Sun, the Woods Reef open-cut asbestos mine in northern NSW may be partly to blame. The mine still holds a mountain of asbestos tailings, or waste products containing asbestos, in the open air. Barbour told an Australian Broadcasting Corporation news reporter, “I was amazed that in 2010 we can still have something like that in the community close to where people live. The scale is just extraordinary.”
According to the ABC News report, $5 million has been allotted to close off the road through the mine, demolish the mill, and clean up the loose asbestos, but none of that has happened. In fact, the mine, with its piles of white asbestos and a public road running through it, has even become something of a tourist attraction.
Asbestos causes all three types of mesothelioma including the most prevalent pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma.
“Asbestos toll in NSW overtakes road carnage”, November 18, 2010. The Herald Sun online.
Peacock, Matt. “Asbestos Inaction”, November 17, 2010. Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The 7:30 Report. Online transcript.