A great variety of household appliances had asbestos content – from stove mats and fire screens to electric blankets and hair dryers, the asbestos providing fire protection and heat insulation.
It has emerged recently that the hessian bags which had been used to transport asbestos fibre from mine to factory were recycled and used for carpet underlay. This means householders removing old carpet have to be particularly careful to identify whether asbestos might be present and take the necessary precautions for handling and disposal.
The legacy of asbestos continues today with the modern handymen and women often being exposed to it unawares when they demolish fences or replace walls and roofs. Sylvia Lovenfosse has witnessed at first hand the careless approach of both tradespeople and the local authorities to the handling of asbestos materials.
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The third wave of asbestos-related disease – almost entirely mesothelioma – is flowing from the usages described above. It is still a growing wave. First affected were asbestos workers’ families, especially wives who washed their husbands’ work clothing. Wittenoom’s children, who played in the tailings, have been other early victims, often several siblings in one family passing away. Indeed, the town of Wittenoom was so heavily contaminated it was beyond clean-up and has been closed by government order.
This wave of mesothelioma is spreading throughout Australian society. Often people diagnosed now with mesothelioma have no idea when or how they were exposed to asbestos. In Western Australia this is true of almost half of all cases since 1994.