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Mesothelioma and Lung Cancer News - Return to Menu

Face of asbestos campaign tells of his own scare

Don Burke knows only too well the dangers of asbestos.

In Canberra yesterday as the public face of the ACT Government's new asbestos awareness campaign, the TV presenter revealed for the first time he had been diagnosed with an asbestos cloud on his lungs as a teenager.

While it hasn't affected his health yet, contracting mesothelioma or another form of asbestosis is an ever- present concern for the former host of the long-running Burke's Backyard.

"It is something that worries me, that there is this potential bomb ticking away and I could die from this disease because of my high level of exposure to asbestos."

Mr Burke said the deadly health effects of asbestos were unknown to his generation. As a child and a teenager he spent hours cutting asbestos-filled fibro sheets to make sheds, construct model boats and innumerable other projects.

"It was everywhere, my house was full of asbestos, and it was in all sorts of materials we used all the time. People of my generation, growing up in the '50s and '60s, had no idea of the dangers."

As an 18-year-old, a chest x-ray revealed a cloud on Mr Burke's lungs.

He was sent to a specialist, and the diagnosis indicated it was likely caused by asbestos. "So now I have to keep aware of it, I have regular x-rays to monitor the situation."

Mr Burke will be the public face of an ACT Government advertising campaign, launched yesterday, aimed at raising community awareness of asbestos and new legislation obliging people to pass on knowledge of its presence. It is estimated three-quarters of homes in the ACT contain asbestos in some form, and almost every home in the territory built before 1988 would contain the material.

The asbestos in most homes is harmless unless it is broken up by renovations or decay.

The new ACT law, which comes into force on April 4, will require home owners and occupiers to inform in writing any prospective tenants or buyers, tradespeople and maintenance workers of any asbestos in the premises.

The legislation is the first of a number of asbestos-related laws set to be introduced in the territory.

From January next year, a full asbestos audit will be required for all homes sold or renovated in the ACT.

The public awareness campaign launched yesterday will see advertisements run on television (two different versions featuring Mr Burke), on radio and in print.

Managing Asbestos guides will be sent to all ACT homes.

Four guides have been produced, for householders, tradespeople, home renovators and occupants of commercial premises.

Mr Burke said yesterday the ACT was leading the way in protecting its citizens from asbestos exposure.

"Other states really need to follow what the ACT is doing. We know how dangerous asbestos is now, so the onus is on governments at all levels to follow this issue through and create a system that is workable and protects people."

Mr Burke was critical of NSW Government efforts to manage asbestos, saying the current system in Australia's most populous state was unworkable.

Source: Canberra Times, 1 March 2005

Disease research call

By Rob Dex, The Mercury

July 20 2005 - BOB Martin worked as a plasterer for more than 30 years and in the end it was his work that killed him.

He was one of the 3,500 people who die in this country every year from mesothelioma, a type of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.

Now his wife, Avril, 59, has called for more research into the effects of the deadly material to find ways of tackling the disease before it becomes terminal.

Mr Martin, of Arsenal Road, Eltham, worked in demolition for the old Greater London Council (GLC) and later for a chemical company.

Mrs Martin said: "There was a terrific amount of asbestos about in old buildings because that is just what they used at the time. People were not aware of the dangers."

The couple only realised Mr Martin was ill when he hurt himself moving things around their kitchen

in October last year. What they thought was a muscle strain turned out to be more serious.

Mr Martin deteriorated quickly and died at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich, on November 16 aged 63, leaving his wife, two daughters and a grandson.

Mrs Martin said: "It's difficult to get a dividing line between scaring people but we need awareness of the disease to help research.

"It's such a devastating illness. You are healthy one month. Then it hits you the next."

A verdict of death due to industrial disease was recorded at Southwark Coroner's Court in June.

Avril said after the hearing: "I wish there could be more formal research so, if they caught the disease a bit earlier, something could be done."

A report, by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), stated: "Areas with the highest mesothelioma excesses in males tend to be those with ports and dockyards."

For more information about the risks of asbestos visit the HSE website at or call 0845 345 0055.


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