Mesothelioma is a type of cancer caused by prolonged exposure to environments with asbestos fibres. In Australia, malignant mesothelioma is responsible for around 2000 hospitalisations each year, according to the 2017 Annual Report by the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute.
What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma develops primarily in the lining of the lungs as a result of the inhalation of asbestos fibres. Because these fibres are very thin, they can be inhaled easily and settle within a person’s lungs. These fibres cause lung lining damage over time, gradually developing into a cancerous state. A large number of mesothelioma cases are diagnosed in people aged over 65, likely due to previous work in construction that deals with asbestos-heavy environments.
History of Asbestos Use in Australia
Asbestos, the cause of mesothelioma, is commonly incorporated in construction processes to strengthen building material. It was widely used before the 1980s in products like floor tiles, roof ceilings and cement sheet pipes. After that, Australian governments started banning asbestos due to asbestos-related deaths and concerns. By the late 1980s, most Australian states and territories have banned the use of asbestos in construction, until the national government eventually enacted a nationwide ban in 2003.
When left undisturbed, asbestos deposits in buildings can be harmless. However, during renovations and construction, old buildings with deposits can release asbestos fibres in the air which can lead to mesothelioma and other diseases. This ongoing goal to curb the harmful effects of asbestos highlights the importance of asbestos survey, removal and disposal services, to ensure that facilities remain free from any asbestos risk.
The Current Situation
The nationwide use of the material in the past century requires a national response. While individual steps are possible, a large-scale project that aims to mitigate the risks of asbestos can help provide better environments for everyone.
The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency established in 2013 helps expedite these desired results by fostering collaboration and coordination between government bodies at all levels. With its five-year plan for asbestos management on the national level, the hope is that emphasis on identification and removal can eventually lead to the elimination of asbestos risk, and in turn, reduce the chance of diseases like mesothelioma from becoming problems for future generations.