At least 699 people died during 2018 from the aggressive cancer mesothelioma, which is predominantly caused by asbestos exposure, according to a report released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
The report, Mesothelioma in Australia 2018, also reveals that 662 new diagnoses of mesothelioma have been recorded for 2018, with the age of the people diagnosed ranging from 22 to 101 years.
“Despite the use of all forms of asbestos being banned in Australia from 2004, hundreds of Australians are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year,” said AIHW spokesperson Justin Harvey.
“Mesothelioma occurs in the mesothelium protective lining on the inside of body cavities and the outside of internal organs. Due to its aggressive nature, most cases of mesothelioma have a poor prognosis.”
As of 1 May this year, 699 mesothelioma deaths from 2018 had been recorded on the Australian Mesothelioma Registry, which is managed by the AIHW.
“The number of recorded mesothelioma diagnoses and deaths that occurred in 2018 are expected to increase as more notifications continue to be received by the registry,” Harvey said.
Around 4 in 5 of the 517 people (81 per cent, or 420 people) working in the trades job category were assessed as “probably exposed” based on the information they provided.
The trades job category covered people working in building, engineering trades and telecommunications fields such as carpenters, joiners, bricklayers, builders, electricians, plumbers, boilermakers, welders, metal fitters/turners and other engineering machinists, and telecommunications technicians.
Occupational exposure to asbestos was also assessed as probable for the majority of people
(75 per cent, or 76 people) working in water transport with jobs such as marine engineering, ship- or boat-building, water vessel maintenance or dockside freight handlers.
Occupational exposure was considered likely for 39 per cent of people (52) working in land transport in jobs related to driving and/or auto-mechanical work.
“The average Australian with mesothelioma was male, diagnosed at around 75 years of age, exposed to asbestos in occupational and non-occupational settings and lived for around 11 months after diagnosis,” said Harvey.
In the years 2015–2018, age-standardised rates of mesothelioma varied across states and territories from 4.4 cases per 100,000 people in Western Australia to 1.1 cases per 100,000 people in Tasmania.
Nearly 1000 people diagnosed with mesothelioma since July 2010 voluntarily participated in an asbestos exposure assessment survey.
Of those participants, Harvey said 93 per cent were assessed as having possible or probable exposure to asbestos.
A further 79 per cent (524) of men provided information indicating possible or probable occupational exposure and 99 per cent (164) of women provided information indicating non-occupational exposure.’
Australia’s consumption of asbestos peaked at around 700,000 metric tonnes during 1970–1979 when asbestos was both mined and imported, and used in the construction industry due to its durability and fire and chemical resistance.
The import and use of asbestos and asbestos-containing products is prohibited in Australia, however a large amount of asbestos still remains in the built environment.