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Asbestos deaths stalk DIY workers

A NATIONAL addiction to home renovation has been blamed for a surge in cases of the killer asbestos-caused disease mesothelioma. Renovators are being warned that even small jobs can be fatal as new figures in Victoria show mesothelioma cases have more than quadrupled since 1982.

Queensland Health figures show the number of terminal asbestos cases has risen from 49 in 1993 to 73 in 1998 – a terrifying 50 per cent increase in just five years.

Medical experts and asbestos support groups warn that the situation will get worse.

Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia president Barry Robson said the disease was once limited to people exposed to asbestos at work, such as wharfies and tradespeople, and their families.

But the new figures reflected a third group – those exposed to asbestos fibres during home renovations up to 30 years ago, he said.

Renovators could account for up to 25 per cent of mesothelioma cases with the number tipped to rise in the near future because of the time-lag of at least 15 years between exposure to asbestos and the onset of mesothelioma.

"We were always worried about the third wave – this is the third wave, it's the start of it," Mr Robson said.

"It's going to keep increasing because of the home renovations."

Mr Robson said home renovation TV shows were not doing enough to warn viewers of the hazards.

Queensland Asbestos Related Support Society president Shirley White said something had to be done to stop "people unknowingly exposing themselves to a substance which can cause creeping cancer".

Mrs White, 69, likened the disease to a jellyfish with tentacles in the chest and lungs. "One fibre and around 30 years is all it takes," she said.

"It's undetectable, but when it activates many sufferers find they have only six weeks to live."

Her husband Reg, 66, a former wharfie, has asbestos-related cancer.

She said many renovators were unaware the deadly substance was extremely common – found in hair-dryers, ceilings, ovens, linoleum tiles, downpipes and fences.

One in three homes built before 1987 contains the fibres.

The support society has a register of 584 sufferers but that figure is expected to swell, with experts estimating 40,000 cases of mesothelioma will emerge in the next 35 years.


Japan Says 374 Deaths Linked to Asbestos Ailments (Update2)

July 15 (Bloomberg) -- Asbestos contributed to the deaths of 374 people in Japan, the country's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said in a report providing the first official tally of industrial fatalities linked to the material.

The findings are based on a survey of 89 companies using asbestos in building materials, the ministry said in the report today. In addition to the deaths, the ministry says 88 people are being treated for health problems linked to the substance, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has linked to cancer.

Company reports on deaths from illnesses linked to asbestos have become daily fare in Japan's media after Kubota Corp., the country's largest maker of farm machinery, said on June 30 that 79 people died of diseases that may have been caused by asbestos used at two of its plants. Public concern involves not only employees at factories that used the material but also the risks construction workers may face when they demolish buildings containing asbestos.

``We didn't realize the damage was this big,'' Kensuke Tomita, an official in the ministry's construction materials section, told reporters at a news conference in Tokyo today. ``Since 1989, we've been encouraging use of substitutes for asbestos.''

Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral fiber, is used to strengthen building products and provide heat insulation and fire resistance. Embedded in lung tissue over time, asbestos fibers may cause diseases such as lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma.

International Claims

Claims by sufferers of asbestos-linked diseases have forced at least 77 U.S. companies into bankruptcy, according to U.S. figures up to June 21. Dow Chemical Co., the largest U.S. chemical maker, said in February, it paid about $300 million to resolve 48,715 asbestos claims related to Union Carbide Corp., a company it acquired in 2001.

ABB Ltd., which faced more than 135,000 U.S. asbestos claims, said in March it reached a new agreement to settle lawsuits that threatened the Swiss engineering company with bankruptcy. ABB will pay an extra $232 million into a $1.3 billion fundü@to resolve claims against its ABB Lummus Global and Combustionü@Engineering Inc. unit.

Asbestos was commonly used in Japanese houses built between 1970 and 1990. The country's imports of the material peaked in 1974 at 350,000 tons, Japan's health ministry said last week. Compensation Claims

Use of asbestos will be completely banned in Japan by 2008, the government repeated earlier this month.

Death Toll

Japan's death toll announced by the economy and trade ministry today includes one family member and two neighbors of workers. The tally is as of July 13, the ministry said.

Health risks from asbestos are highest when the fibers become airborne during renovation or demolition. About 98 percent of all asbestos brought into Japan was used in construction materials, the ministry said in a separate survey in 2002.

Inhalation of asbestos dust is linked to lung cancer and mesothelioma, a form of cancer that attacks the chest cavity or lungs 20 to 40 years after exposure, Japan's health ministry says in a pamphlet it began distributing to building owners and managers last week.


"For 13 years, doctors were unable to tell what was wrong with my lungs,'' Kosuke Hanida, a 71-year-old former electrical engineer told Bloomberg News on the sidelines of the ministry press conference. "Even now, I don't know when and where exactly I inhaled the toxic material.''

After working as an engineer for more than 40 years at construction sites, Hanida was diagnosed with asbestos-related disease two years ago.

Japanese companies reporting deaths among staff and former employees include Taiheiyo Cement Corp., Mitsubishi Materials Kenzai Corp. and Nichias Corp., which reported the largest number of death cases of 141.

Mazda Motor Co., Hitachi Zosen Corp. and Sumitomo Heavy Industries Ltd. said earlier this week that a total of 19 former employees have died from diseases caused by the inhalation of dust from asbestos used in their factories.

Kyodo News reported earlier this week that the death toll from asbestos-linked diseases may be as high as 392 people.

Government Probe

An organization under Japan's health ministry said last week it is investigating the scope of asbestos-related illnesses, including contacting workers, former employees in related industries, and their families.

Japan's refiners said this week they will conduct tests over four years on the use of graphite as an alternative to asbestos to improve safety in the industry. Asbestos is used as a sealing material between pipes.

A substitute has not been found yet because of asbestos' heat- and acid-resistant properties, the economy and trade ministry's Tomita said.

"It's still impossible to estimate how much it will cost the industry,'' Ikuo Hamabayashi, a spokesman at the Petroleum Association of Japan in Tokyo told Bloomberg News earlier this week. "We don't yet know the suitability of graphite.''

To contact the reporter for this story:
Hiroshi Suzuki in Tokyo at at

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