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Asbestos killed a town. Uranium towns next?

WA GOVERNMENT TO MOVE LAST RESIDENTS FROM ASBESTOS TOWN ABC Radio National 3 April 2013  By:Catherine Van Extel The West Australian Government is looking to move a group of residents who continue to live in the deadly asbestos mining town of Wittenoom, in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. But while there are moves to finally clean up the toxic site, many continue to face the legacy of their time spent growing up in or visiting the notorious town.

asbestos-town

The 1990 Midnight Oil song ‘Blue Sky Mine’ was inspired by Wittenoom and its deadly mining industry. It’s estimated that more than 20,000 people lived at Wittenoom before the mine closed in 1966.

Asbestos-related diseases have killed more than 2000 former workers and family members of Wittenoom, a death toll that continues to rise.

In 2007, the state government withdrew Wittenoom’s town status—disconnecting services like water and electricity—but a small group of residents stayed. Now the government wants them out in order to remediate the contaminated site. It’s reconvened the Wittenoom Closure Steering Committee to achieve that…..

‘[I]t will be ultimately a decision of government of how they want to pursue the relocation of residents, through either an intervention, compensation, or a change to legislation,’ Mr Rosair says.

The death on Sunday of former WA Labor MP, Ernie Bridge, is another tragic reminder of the Wittenoom legacy. Mr Bridge believed he was exposed to asbestos fibres and dust while visiting the town on government and electoral business. He was suing CSR Limited, the Shire of Ashburton, and two of Australia’s richest women, Gina Rinehart and Angela Wright, after recently being diagnosed with mesothelioma.

For Perth-based Slater and Gordon lawyer, Simon Millman, Ernie Bridge’s compensation claim was one of between 100 and 120 asbestos-related cases he sees each year. A growing number of cases involve people who’ve had a lower exposure to asbestos; that includes former Wittenoom residents.

‘People in the industry usually talk about three waves of asbestos exposure,’ Mr Millman says. ‘They talk about the original workers—the mine workers, the mill workers, the manufacturers working in the James Hardie factories. And then the second wave, with the construction workers, electricians, the plumbers, the painters, the plasterers who would in the course of their work come into contact with asbestos on a regular basis—we saw many claims and we continue to see many claims for people in that category. And then the third category are the wives of those workers, whose only exposure was through washing their husbands’ clothes at the end of the day. And the children, as I say, and also the home handymen.’…..http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/asbestos-town/4607938

That third wave, involving exposure in the late-1970s and ‘80s, is on the rise. Alison Reid is an associate research professor at University of

Western Australia and the West Australian Institute of Medical Research. She says that for many children who grew up in Wittenoom and were exposed to the blue asbestos tailings, the effects continue to be felt.

‘We published work last year looking for the first time at the Wittenoom children,’ Ms Reid says. ‘So they’re now roughly 50 years old; we found high rates of mesothelioma—17 per cent of the cohort had died from mesothelioma, which is extremely high. We also found high rates of other diseases compared to the West Australian population, particularly brain cancer, leukaemia in the men, prostate cancer in the men. They had higher rates just of dying from all causes and all cancers.’

Former Wittenoom mine worker, Robert Vojakovic, is president of the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia, which is campaigning for more research into asbestos-related diseases. He believes there should also be a Wittenoom fund.

‘They’ve got people who had sufficient exposure, possibly 10,000 people which are at risk to develop disease from Wittenoom alone,’ he says. ‘And they’re in a pretty high category to get cancer or mesothelioma. I’m talking about many persons who just briefly and remotely in time spent, you know, maybe one or two days at Wittenoom visiting beautiful gorges.’

‘So I reckon the focus ought to be on Wittenoom, you know? To start some medical research…to actually do something for the people who develop mesothelioma arising out of their visit to Wittenoom.’

Listen to Catherine Van Extel’s report at RN Breakfast.

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April 5, 2013 - Posted by | AUSTRALIA, environment

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