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Mesothelioma and Lung Cancer News - Return to Menu

Asbestos law plea

From: By Gill Vowles
July 07, 2005 - AN asbestos victim's widow yesterday pleaded with the State Government to stop protecting big businesses at the expense of families hit by lethal asbestos-related disease.

Christine Whiteley has been campaigning for compensation changes since her 53-year-old husband, Tony, died from asbestos-related mesothelioma in July 2003.
He contracted the illness during his 38 years at Burnie's paper mill.

Tasmania is the only state where a claim for pain and suffering, the bulk of most compensation claims, is extinguished when the victim dies, and Mrs Whiteley has been trying to change that.

But the Burnie widow says she is worn down by the fight and will be giving up if the Government doesn't act this time.

"Sixteen months ago the Attorney-General, Judy Jackson, said she would look at changing our compensation laws to bring them in line with other states," Mrs Whiteley said.

"Since then I have heard nothing and to my knowledge nothing has been done." Mrs Whiteley said she had decided to push her campaign one last time after the Queensland Government's recent decision to allow families of asbestos victims to continue their legal claim if it is begun before the death.

"Tasmania is now the only state that doesn't allow survivorship of asbestos claims when victims lose the race to finalise legal claims before they die," Mrs Whiteley said.

"Why does Tasmania protect business responsible for asbestos exposure - and their insurers - at the expense of the husbands, wives and children left behind?

"Why does the Tasmanian Government reward defendants who delay legal actions in a bid to out-last dying asbestos victims? All the other states can't be wrong."

She said her campaign was not about money.

"Money doesn't bring them back, no amount of money can change what happened to Tony," she said.

"But money does make companies accountable and Tony was shattered that the owners of the Burnie paper mill didn't have to be accountable for what happened to him.

"He felt his life meant nothing and that he didn't count as a person. I just want the Government to change the law quickly so there are no more Tasmanian families missing out on the support they need."

Mrs Whiteley's lawyer, Margaret Kent, said it was tragic that only Tasmanian asbestos victims had to engage in an obscene race against death to finalise legal arrangements.

"Justice becomes a lottery where one recent case was settled only hours before death, and another case lost out because the victim passed away before their court hearing."

Attorney-General Judy Jackson said the Government was expecting to finalise a position paper on the survivorship provisions relating to pain and suffering claims by the estates of asbestos victims by the end of the year.

She rejected claims of the Government protecting businesses responsible for asbestos exposure.

Exposure to asbestos can lead to lung disease


In another twist to the term ‘occupational hazard,’ a recent study showed that construction workers, seamen and firefighters are at great risk of developing lung cancer – particularly those in close contact with asbestos, a construction material often used and patronized for its cheap price, but is banned and considered harmful in 40 countries.

Asbestos, called the ‘magic mineral’ because of its unique chemical composition is used for many construction products like tiles and cement.

According to Lung Center of the Philippines pulmonologist Dr. Dina V. Diaz, during the 1st Asbestos Forum spearheaded by the Philippine Ban Asbestos Network (PBAN) at the Occupational Health and Safety Center (OHSC) in Quezon City, microscopic airborne asbestos fibers are carcinogenic substances, and when inhaled, can cause various types of lung diseases.

Some of these pulmonary diseases are: calcified pleural plaques (thickening of the parietal pleura on the lower chest walls and diaphragm); Asbestosis (most common lung disease from asbestos, is the diffuse, instertitial or ‘scarring’ of the lungs); asbestos-related lung cancer (cancer of the inner lining of the lung); and mesothelioma (the most serious type of asbestos disease – a tumor on the outer lining of the lung that is usually fatal within two years of diagnosis).

What’s more alarming is that the manifestation of asbestos-related diseases from the period of exposure can be as long as 60 years, and that medical practitioners who are not familiar with the disorder often mistake the ailment for tuberculosis or pneumonia, and end up administering the wrong medication.

Symptoms of asbestos-related diseases are: Persistent pain in the lower back, shoulder or chest wall, shortness of breath, appearance of lump or mass on chest wall, persistent dry cough, coughing-up blood, fatigue or anemia, weight loss for no apparent reason, hoarseness or change in voice, swelling of face or arms, abdominal pain and nausea.

Those greatly at risk are asbestos manufacturers, miners and millers of asbestos, people in construction trades (carpenters, electricians, plumbers and pipe fitters), power plant workers, boilermakers, shipyard workers and firefighters.

Dr. Diaz also stressed that the higher the inhaled dust from asbestos, the greater the health risk.

She also warned that smokers have 50 times greater risk of developing lung cancer as compared to non-smokers exposed to asbestos dust.

There is no known cure for lung diseases caused by asbestos. The most doctors can do is provide treatment for symptomatic relief from dry cough, immunization for other ailments that lung diseases can trigger, and immediate remedy for shortness of breath.

The health issues concerning asbestos is the main reason why PBAN is pushing for the total ban of asbestos in the Philippines.

In its position paper entitled "Exposing the silent killer: Asbestos and the risks Filipinos face," PBAN disclosed that in the construction industry, more than a million asbestos-containing cement boards are cheaply sold, exposing many people to the dangers of the material.

A Chemical Control Order (CCO) for asbestos (or Department Order 2000-02) was released in order to regulate the use of asbestos in the country.

However, according to PBAN lead proponent, Dr. Marlito Cardenas, the CCO does not adequately cover various issues that guarantee safe asbestos use.


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