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Asbestos link to renovators

10 April 2005 - RECORD numbers of South Australian asbestos victims are being diagnosed with the killer disease mesothelioma as more deaths are linked to exposure to fibres in the home.

Health Department figures show the number of people suffering the terminal illness have steadily climbed from eight in 1977 to now peak at more than 50 annually.

Adelaide lawyers are reporting more clients now seeking compensation from asbestos manufacturers following exposure during home renovations.

They say such victims were almost non-existent five years ago.

SA Asbestos Victims Association secretary Terry Miller said renovators from the 1970s and their children were now starting to develop the respiratory disease, which took about 30 years to develop.

"The thing that worries us now is the people doing home renovations," Mr Miller said.

"It might be young people doing a home renovation and there might be a little child crawling around on the floor and that child might not know for 20 years the parents . . . handed this child a death sentence.

"In this state now we have an unwanted record for mesothelioma cases per capita in the world."

Only Western Australia has a higher rate of mesothelioma per capita than SA.

Thousands of SA properties, including schools, office buildings, houses and Housing Trust properties are riddled with asbestos, which can be dangerous if disturbed without care.

Asbestos law firm Slater and Gordon says renovators are the "third wave" of asbestos victims, following miners and manufacturers.

"What we are finding is that people who had very small exposure such as adding on a room to the house or putting in a cubby house or sanding back and painting eaves on houses, those people 30 years later are developing mesothelioma," laywer Jane McDermott, an asbestos specialist with the firm, said.

About 30 per cent of the firm's current clients – or about 20 victims – were exposed in the home, often to asbestos sheeting made at the James Hardie factory at Elizabeth after 1960.

Law firm Turner Freeman is acting for 10 South Australians who are dying of mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos while renovating.

"The first home renovation cases we did were five or six years ago," a partner in the firm, Tanya Segelov, said.

"Up to a quarter of mesothelioma cases would now be home renovation cases. When we were doing this work 10 years ago it was all workers.

"It's not so much the asbestos in the industry now that will kill people it's the asbestos in the home."

Asbestos victims were typically workers at James Hardie, the Whyalla shipyards and city buildings, including old department stores, which were sprayed with asbestos, Ms Segelov said.

A total of 742 South Australians have been officially diagnosed with mesothelioma since the Health Department began compiling the rates in 1977.

Other asbestos diseases such as asbestosis are not recorded by the department.

Unsafe asbestos levels discovered

LEVELS of asbestos up to 23 times the limit regarded as safe by the government’s heath watchdog have been found in soil samples taken from the former Turner Brother’s site.

Campaigners are now calling for an independent government inquiry after tests found levels of the potentially deadly fibres were 23 and 13 times above the Health and Safety Executive’s limit in two soil samples taken just off the road through the site leading to the bowling green and from a car park close to where developers propose to put a nursery.

The survey was carried out by environmental experts Encia who were hired by developers wishing to build 600 homes and a business park on the site.

Campaign group Save Spodden Valley says it will be calling on the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to hold a public inquiry after the latest findings.

Spokesman Jason Addy said: “These levels of asbestos are highly significant and are an insight into just how contaminated the whole site may be. This needs to go to a government inspector and we are asking the office of the Deputy Prime Minister to step in.

“We want a full public inquiry. This could be a heavily contaminated site and the people of Rochdale deserve the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

The Health and Safety Executive’s limit for asbestos contamination before waste is deemed hazardous is 0.1 per cent but the tests show 1.3 per cent and 2.3 per cent asbestos in two samples, a massive 13 and 23 times the recommended limit.

Developers Countryside Properties and MMC Developments initially revealed there were small traces of asbestos in the soil when submitting the first draft of their planning application.

They then revealed there was exposed asbestos on the site in February, after residents had raised concerns about fibres seen hanging from the roots of trees to the north of the site.

Councillor Tom Stott, one of a six-strong working party looking into contamination fears, says he has been concerned about the presence of asbestos in rubble on the site for some time.

He said: “I have been constantly asking questions about the rubble, especially about where it would go to.

“It is obvious to most people that there is asbestos in the rubble because the site had been producing asbestos for over 100 years, so these tests prove what we have known all along.

“What we need is open and transparent behaviour from the developers.”

The Observer asked Countryside and MMC to comment, but they had not done so as we went to press.

Bethan Dorsett

First published by the Rochdale Observer

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