The serious consequences of asbestos exposure can be felt in all corners of the globe in the form of lung cancer, asbestosis and malignant mesothelioma diagnoses. One town in Western Australia, Wittenoom, has been particularly hard hit by the tragedy of asbestos-related illnesses, with estimates suggesting the community has lost 10 percent of its residents to mesothelioma.
The Wittenoom tragedy stems from an asbestos mine by the same name that was operated by the Australian multinational CSR (Colonial Sugar Refinery) and its subsidiary Australian Blue Asbestos. Despite knowledge that exposure to blue asbestos can cause a number of serious health issues, the owners of the mine allowed operations to continue in Wittenoom until 1966, according to Laurie Kazan-Allen, the Coordinator of International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS).
During the period from the early 1940s until the mine’s closure in 1966, more than 20,000 people have lived in the Australian town, including more than 4,000 children. The risk of asbestos exposure is particularly alarming for children, as the symptoms of related illnesses typically do not manifest themselves until decades after initial exposure. This means young children who inhale the carcinogenic mineral fibers may begin to suffer serious health issues in their 20s and 30s.
Asbestos tragedy highlighted in individual stories
Derryn Carnaby, who lost both her parents and two brothers to mesothelioma, was fortunate enough to be born after her family had left the town. Carnaby has decided to use this good fortune to make a difference, becoming a member of the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia (ADSA) and spearheading a charity walk to raise funding for the research of asbestos-related diseases.
Bev Bertocchi, whose husband and mother-in-law passed away due to mesothelioma in recent years, has been training for the walk from Kalgoorlie to Perth for weeks, according to Kazan-Allen. She hopes to raise awareness and secure funding for asbestos research.
Legislation leaves victims behind
While the town of Wittenoom may be thousands of miles away, the effects of asbestos-related illnesses can also be seen in the U.S, where approximately 2,500 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Despite this, recent legislation has taken aim at victims seeking to gain the justice they deserve. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, for instance, approved a bill that limits the ability of asbestos victims to recover compensation from the responsible parties. Michigan House Bill 4601 is specifically designed to protect corporations that purchased companies responsible for exposing individuals to asbestos.
As this bill passed, two of Michigan’s major news outlets, the Detroit Free Press and the Grand Rapids Press, remained silent on the legislation, Media Matters reported.