'Third wave' of asbestos victims driven by home renovation boom
A grandmother has revealed her "complete shock" over being diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma after working at a recycling plant in Sydney.
Esmaralda Marsh, 47, now lives in Logan, Queensland, and says she was exposed to illegally-dumped asbestos fibres as she sorted rubbish at a recycling plants in Sydney during the early 2000s, where she worked for a labour hire company.
"We came across tin roofing parts and other objects like chicken wire. We took them off the conveyor belt and chucked them in a skip. I never thought they would have asbestos in them," she told Nine.com.au.
"I expected it to be dusty and dirty – and it was. But we certainly didn't expect the work was going to hurt us."
Late last year, Esmaralda became seriously ill with water on her lungs. In January, she was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma – a cancer of the protective lining of the lung.
"I was in complete shock when the doctors told me," she said.
In her claims of compensation through the NSW Dust Diseases Tribunal, Esmaralda alleges broken asbestos building materials were illegally dumped into general recycling with plastic and paper.
Esmaralda worked at the plant from 2000 to 2005, often performing 12 hour shifts. Her main role was sorting rubbish on a conveyor belt and removing non-recyclable materials.
She said the potential hazards of the job were sharp objects among the rubbish such as needles and broken porcelain.
"I never thought it would have asbestos in it," she said.
THIRD WAVE OF EXPOSURE
Esmeralda is just one example of a new 'wave' of Australians suffering asbestos-related disease caused by unsafe practices during building work.
Asbestos was gradually phased out of building materials in the 1980s and manufacturing of the material was stopped in 2003.
But every year up to 4000 Australians die from asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma.
The first wave of people with ill health was composed of asbestos industry workers – mainly in mining and manufacturing. Then builders and other tradespeople working with the material were exposed.
Esmaralda is among a new generation – described by experts as the 'third wave' – bearing the brunt of disease.
Maurice Blackburn lawyer Jonathan Walsh – who is assisting Esmaralda with her claim - said increasing numbers of people were being diagnosed with mesothelioma after exposure to asbestos as a result of home renovations.
Many have been exposed while handling common building materials such as roofing, flooring and fencing.
"We are certainly finding more people are coming to us for help in accessing compensation for asbestos-related diseases and that growth in our practice is probably partly due to the fact that people are getting diagnosed earlier which in turn gives them more time to seek legal advice," he said.
Earlier this month, the NSW Government released its planned Asbestos Waste Strategy.
It called for the axing of the levy on disposing of dangerous asbestos waste up to 250 kilograms.
Up to eight percent of illegally dumped waste across NSW is asbestos waste, the government said, adding that it posed a threat to health and the environment.
Environment Minister Matt Kean said he wants to make it easier and cheaper for people to lawfully dispose of such waste by removing the levy on up to 250kg of separated, bonded and wrapped asbestos waste.
Currently there is a $143.60 per tonne levy on waste in metropolitan areas and $82.70 per tonne in regional areas.
Individuals can be fined up to $500,000 for illegally dumping asbestos, while corporations can face a penalty of $2 million.