Asbestos Diseases. What Is Asbestos?

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1 1 Asbestos Diseases What Is Asbestos? Asbestos is a term applied to a group of minerals formed into rock and mined in a similar way to coal. In this form, asbestos is made up of strong, fine and flexible fibres. The processing and milling of asbestos shapes the fibres like needles which once airborne, can be easily inhaled or swallowed. In Australia, asbestos fibre production began in 1880, leading to asbestos mining and milling operations in various states, including Western Australia (Wittenoom ) and New South Wales (Baryulgil ). Asbestos fibre was also imported into Australia from Canada, South Africa and the United States. Asbestos is now widely recognised as an occupational health hazard and a major cause of human injury and death. There are four commercially important forms of asbestos, all once widely used in building and in numerous commercial products: 1. Chrysotile (white asbestos) 2. Crocidolite (blue asbestos) 3. Amosite (brown or grey asbestos) 4. Anthophyllite Asbestos manufacture and use today has all but ceased, however it can still be found in: asbestos-cement sheets, roofing and pipes paints and sealants brake linings, gaskets and friction products textiles including felts and curtains sprayed on sound proofing or fire proofing In Australia, most asbestos is white asbestos but all forms are carcinogenic, capable of causing lung cancer, mesothelioma as well as other asbestos related diseases such as pleural fibrosis and asbestosis.

2 2 Asbestos Injury The risk of contracting an asbestos related disease increases with cumulative exposure and also with the passing of time since the first exposure to asbestos occurs. Airborne asbestos fibres which are inhaled or swallowed may remain in the body for decades. Before these ingested asbestos fibres ultimately cause injury, a latency period of 40 years or more following first exposure to asbestos can elapse. Pleural Fibrosis also known as pleural plaques. These can take seven years or more to develop in the lung following asbestos exposure. A pleural plaque is an indicator of previous asbestos exposure. It is a thickened patch on the lining or pleura of the lung. Plaques may be present in both lungs and in considerable numbers. Pleural plaques are often discovered by chest x-ray or high resolution CT scanning. Generally, pleural plaques do not impair lung function and therefore require no medical treatment. A large pleural plaque can reduce lung expansion and lead to shortness of breath. Asbestosis When asbestos fibres lodge in the lungs and cause scarring to lung tissue, symptoms of breathlessness and fatigue can develop leading to a diagnosis of asbestosis. Like pleural plaques, asbestosis is not a cancer but it is a serious industrial disease which can result in significant physical disability. Asbestosis can lead to a painful death as scarring to the lungs can continue to develop despite there being no further asbestos exposure. Asbestosis can develop after a latency period of ten years or more following the first asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma Inhaling or swallowing asbestos fibres can cause a cancer, caused mesothelioma, to the lining of the lung. Mesothelioma can also develop in the stomach, the abdomen (peritoneum) or the bowel. Past exposure to asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma. This fast growing cancer can take 20 to 45 years to develop. Mesothelioma of the pleura of the lung may develop in one spot or a number of spots. As the cancer grows it can extend into the chest wall and the ribs and produce fluid in the lining of the lung resulting in breathlessness and a dry cough.

3 3 Mesothelioma in the abdomen causes pain and swelling as well as urinary and bowel dysfunction. There is no known cure for mesothelioma. Sufferers of mesothelioma rarely survive longer than 18 months after diagnosis. Lung Cancer Swallowing or inhaling asbestos fibres can lead to the development of cancer in the lung tissue. Cigarette smokers and diagnosed sufferers of asbestosis are at greater risk of developing lung cancer. There are different types of lung cancer but all can be caused by asbestos exposure. Lung cancer may take decades to develop. Common symptoms of lung cancer include breathlessness, difficulty swallowing, coughing up sputum and constant chest pain. Chest x-ray and high resolution CT scanning can diagnose lung cancer. Asbestos caused injury or illness who is at risk? Any person exposed to asbestos is at risk of developing an asbestos caused injury or illness. Exposure at work, at home or in the community generally can and does occur. Even exposure to asbestos as a child or when handling clothing or equipment itself exposed to asbestos can cause injury. Cigarette smoking combined with asbestos exposure greatly increases the risk of the development of lung cancer. Activities where exposure to asbestos may occur can involve: mining or milling asbestos using products which contain asbestos in industries including building and construction, shipping, boiler making, lagging, fitting and turning and plumbing demolition or repair of buildings, structures or objects which contain asbestos handling, washing or cleaning clothing or equipment contaminated by asbestos fibre What should you do if you believe you have been exposed to asbestos? If you believe that you may have been exposed to asbestos and are concerned about your health as a result you should:

4 4 immediately attend your general practitioner and request a full medical assessment including chest x-rays, lung function testing, referral to an expert respiratory specialist if required retain and place in safe keeping, relevant documents including employment records taxation group certificates letters of commendation or service invoices and receipts brochures or product information documentation photographs depicting the asbestos product used or handled by you seek specialist legal advice through your Union, local health centre and/ or the Law Institute of Victoria. Legal entitlements arising out of an asbestos related injury or illness Holding Redlich offers the complete expert service to deal with all aspects of the legal entitlements following a diagnosis of an asbestos related injury. These entitlements include: workers compensation entitlements involving weekly payments of compensation and payment of medical and associated treatment expenses access to an award of common law damages. Centrelink and/ or superannuation entitlements Holding Redlich has in place an expert legal team to provide advice to the sufferer of an asbestos related injury. Our team is headed by Michael Schaefer, a senior partner, who has been prosecuting claims on behalf of sufferers of asbestos related injuries and disease for over 20 years. Michael and his team can provide expert advice in relation to the preparation and prosecution of a common law claim for damages including: the obtaining of expert scientific and medical assessments with respect to the asbestos injury and the circumstances of exposure to asbestos court applications to abridge or shorten time limits applying to court proceedings to restore companies to the Register at the Australian Securities Commission to enable legal proceedings to brought against them to obtain Orders for speedy trial of claims, particularly for mesothelioma to retain Counsel with specific Australia wide expertise in the prosecution of asbestos related litigation Michael will attend clients with asbestos related injuries or illnesses at their own home to facilitate the providing of appropriate legal advice often in distressing circumstances. The first two legal consultations are entirely free of charge. Holding Redlich also retains a register of all asbestos related inquiries.

5 5 For further information about entitlements arising as a result of an asbestos related disease please contact Michael Schaefer at Holding Redlich, 350 William Street, Melbourne by telephone on or Sources Of Additional Information Organisation Telephone No Anti Cancer Council for information on all aspects of lung cancer and mesothelioma Asbestos Information & Support Service (03) Australian Lung Foundation Department of Human Services (Environmental Health Unit) (03) Environment Protection Authority Information Centre Gippsland Asbestos Related Diseases Support Inc (03) for enquiries relating to asbestos removal or disposal (03) Quit for help to stop smoking Victorian WorkCover Authority

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