When Ted Lawrence was a strapping young bloke of just 18 years working as a lagger on the Australian navy ships, he spent his days working with asbestos sheets. He thought he was the luckiest of his ship mates because his job gave him the chance to sit on the decks in the sun and cut up asbestos into the sizes needed to cover steam room appliances while his colleagues were stuck in the stream room down below.
The research program, which has had various names over the years but was commonly known as the Vitamin A program, was a research project that began in the 1990s – just a decade after Mr Lawrence became aware that the stuff he had worked with as a young bloke was potentially deadly.
Mr Lawrence has been diagnosed with pleural plaques which are areas of raised fibrous collagen tissue that develop on the pleura, the lining outside the lung. They are associated with asbestos exposure and like other asbestos-related conditions; pleural plaques develop many years after exposure.
More recently, Mr Lawrence has developed asbestosis which is a lung disease characterised by the replacement of the normal lung tissue with fibrous tissue. It results from exposure to asbestos and causes a destruction of the structures in the lung that allow the exchange of gases, including oxygen.
“The progress of the asbestosis is slow. This year the readings I got from the chest clinic showed a slight improvement in the transfers of oxygen,” he said.
“Even though they don’t have all of the clinical evidence, there is something really, really good about it that is working and it’s worth a try (being involved),” he said.