Australians are keen home renovators, but it now seems that the great Aussie renovation dream may be contributing to a big Aussie nightmare. Olsen and colleagues provide evidence from Western Australia that an increasing number of people are being diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma after exposure to asbestos during home renovation. Moreover, the latency period between exposure and disease seems, at this stage, to be shorter than that for other sources of exposure.
According to Olsen et al, two-thirds of older Australian homes were renovated between 1989 and 1999, and a study in one region found that almost three out of four houses built before 1965 contain asbestos in one form or another. Consequently, it is not surprising that over 80% of respondents to an Australian survey (quoted by Olsen et al) believe that they have been exposed to asbestos at home or at work.
In an accompanying editorial, Gordon and Leigh note that Australia already has the highest rate of mesothelioma in the world. They stress the importance of maintaining accurate clinical data through the use of centralised mesothelioma registries, in the hope that these will sound both national and global warnings of the dangers of asbestos. Although asbestos has essentially been banned as a building material in Australia and most of the world, it is still used in some of the most populated countries, such as China, India and Indonesia.
They counsel that we need to be vigilant in maintaining awareness of the risks of asbestos exposure during home renovation, and lament that, to this day, there are no systematic warnings to ensure that people are aware of asbestos risks in their homes. Given the widely publicised legal liability of the companies that were involved in the production and distribution of asbestos-related products, the lack of these warnings is mystifying.
All doctors, and indeed all Australians, need to be aware of this rise in the incidence of malignant mesothelioma associated with home renovation. It is fitting that this important issue is aired in the MJA.
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