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Third wave of asbestos sufferers

Date

Anna Patty

An increasing number of younger women are part of a third wave of asbestos disease emerging in Australia, research has found.

Associate Professor Rick van der Zwan, from Southern Cross University, said the rate of diagnosis of asbestos-related disease was increasing.

It is no longer an "old man's disease" and is now affecting young people in the prime of their work and family lives.

"Younger women represent an increasing percentage of all diagnoses," Professor van der Zwan said.

"These changes in rates and profile can be attributed to non-workplace exposure."

Younger women have contracted the disease as children exposed to their fathers' work overalls and as a result of family home renovations since the 1970s. It can take 20 to 50 years after asbestos exposure for a related cancer to be diagnosed.  

Professor van der Zwan said existing compensation arrangements did not always cover people who did not contract asbestos disease in the workplace. But a common law claim could be sought.

"People exposed to asbestos in their homes in NSW may not be eligible for workers' compensation or support from the Dust Diseases Board," he said.

"The impact of an asbestos-related diagnosis on the lives of younger men and women exposed during home renovations and repairs, are part of the "third wave" of exposure to asbestos." 

NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge said this third wave had "largely slipped under the radar of politicians and policy makers".

"This disease not only savages the lives of the victims but their carers who through love and commitment often lose a career and two, three or more years of their life to assist their partner," he said.

Jodie Davies, 41, from Wollongong was exposed to asbestos on her father's work overalls when she was young. The former school chaplain, who is married, has not worked since she was diagnosed with mesothelioma in June 2011.

"It was even a shock to my dad," she said. "You would never expect to be diagnosed with mesothelioma in my age group. It is more common in an older population.

"It is important that society understand that asbestos is dangerous and that it is still in many Australian homes and probably these days the highest risk is to home renovators."

Ms Davies said she thanked God her father has not been diagnosed with asbestos-related disease and says her Christian faith has sustained her since her diagnosis.

"I have a faith in God and I know I have a future and I'm going to live every day like I have a tomorrow," she said.

Joanne Wade, a senior lawyer with Slater and Gordon who has represented hundreds of people with asbestos-related disease, said an Australian study published in the Medical Journal of Australia late last year showed a sharp rise in the number of malignant mesothelioma cases caused by asbestos exposure during home renovations over the past 10 years.

"It is a sad scenario that may play out in many more Australian families over the coming decades before the country can finally draw a line under the asbestos tragedy," she said.

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