Increase in mesothelioma cases shows efforts to rid Australia of asbestos must continue

26 August, 2011

A sharp rise in new cases of mesothelioma is an unwelcome reminder that the fight to eradicate asbestos from our workplaces, homes and communities is far from over.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said the latest figures on new cases of mesothelioma have shocked Australian unions.

The Safe Work Australia Report ‘Mesothelioma in Australia’ released today details that the annual number of new cases of mesothelioma has increased to a new peak of 660 cases.

Mesothelioma is a cancer for which the only known cause is exposure to asbestos.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said that the shock of these figures should remind us all that the scourge that is asbestos plagues us to this day and beyond.

“The dangers to health from asbestos didn’t end when we stopped mining asbestos or started to ban the use of asbestos in the 1980s,” Ms Kearney said.

“The dangers didn’t stop when we stopped importing asbestos in 2004.”

“Australia had one of the highest per capita rates of asbestos consumption rates in the world and most of that asbestos is still in place and is deteriorating.”

Ms Kearney said annual numbers of new mesothelioma cases decreased between 2003 and 2006, but the latest figures for 2007 show an increase of more than 10%.  Increased diagnoses in men made up virtually all of new cases.

“As long as asbestos remains in our homes, our workplaces and in our community generally in public buildings people will be in danger of exposure,” Ms Kearney said.

“The Federal Government’s Asbestos Management Review which is currently underway must recommend the elimination of asbestos from the built environment by 2030 and the establishment of a National Asbestos Authority to oversee prioritised asbestos removal.”

Mesothelioma has a long latency and the onset of the disease can be as much as 20 to 50 years after asbestos exposure.

The World Health Organisation reported in 2006 that at least 90,000 people worldwide each year die from asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis.