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Is there a safe level of exposure to asbestos dust?

The short answer is no. There is no safe level of exposure to respirable asbestos that will prevent a person from contracting mesothelioma, a terminal cancer of the lining of the lung caused by exposure to asbestos.

Although mesothelioma is a very rare cancer individuals have contracted the cancer after very small exposures to asbestos many years ago, such as cutting and fitting asbestos cement fibro sheets during home renovations or knocking down an asbestos fibro shed in the backyard. Children who were present while home renovations were carried out or played with fibro off cuts have also developed mesothelioma many years later.

Other asbestos diseases, such as lung cancer and asbestosis, require substantial exposure to asbestos, normally 5 to 10 years of heavy and continuous exposure. These diseases are normally contracted by workers. Mesothelioma on the other hand has been increasingly seen in persons exposed outside of the work place as result of home renovations and other bystander exposures, the “third wave” of asbestos victims.

Persons exposed to asbestos have a 3% lifetime risk of contracting mesothelioma. Even at the Wittenoom mine, where miners and millers were exposed to vast quantities of crocidolite (blue) asbestos, the risk of contracting mesothelioma was 16%. However, given Australia’s very large use of asbestos, particularly asbestos cement fibro building materials (1 out of every 3 homes built between WWII and 1983 it said to contain asbestos cement fibro building materials) between 600 to 700 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in Australia every year and Australia has the highest per capita incidence of mesothelioma in the world.

Given there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos it is important that the dangers of exposure to asbestos are well known. Fibro sheets were not labelled as containing asbestos prior to 1979 and many Australian homes contain asbestos cement building materials which are now over 50 years of age and have cracked or weathered releasing dust and fibre. Australians are at risk of exposure to asbestos when drilling fibro sheets to hang a picture, sanding fibro walls and eaves while painting or demolishing walls during renovations.

More must be done to educate the public about the danger of exposure to even small amounts of asbestos and to identify where asbestos is in our homes so that any exposure can be avoided.

If you contract mesothelioma or another asbestos disease you may have right to claim compensation. Segelov Taylor can assist you to obtain compensation and provide you with advice in relation to your rights. Segelov Taylor acts on a ‘no win no fee’ basis for all asbestos disease claims. Please contact as on 880 0500 or by email- if you have any questions.

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