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Asbestos time bomb


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Norma Ryan played with asbestos as a girl and accidentally broke a piece. She was completely unaware until recently that she was in danger of developing an asbestos-related illness. Picture: Marcus Whisson www.communitypix.com.au   Norma Ryan played with asbestos as a girl and accidentally broke a piece. She was completely unaware until recently that she was in danger of developing an asbestos-related illness. Picture: Marcus Whisson www.communitypix.com.au Buy this photo

NORMA Ryan was “shellshocked” when she found she had mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer, as a result of coming into contact with asbestos 65 years ago.

As a nine-year-old girl, she remembers playing with asbestos – a fibrous silicate mineral, widely used in building materials until the 1980s – while her father renovated the family home.

“My brother and I picked up a piece and accidentally broke it,” Mrs Ryan, now 74, said.

Unknown to so many people at the time, exposure to deadly asbestos fibres can often be fatal.

Mrs Ryan was again exposed to asbestos as a teenager during further household renovations and later again as an adult.

“When we bought our first home, some time during the ’60s, I decided to rub down an asbestos fence to prepare it for painting, which is the worst thing you can do,” she said.

“I wasn’t educated about asbestos back then, but I certainly am now and I want to educate others.”

Up until January this year, Mrs Ryan was completely unaware she was in danger of developing an asbestos-related illness, assuming only tradesmen or former asbestos miners were at risk.

“My brother-in-law was a carpenter who had worked with asbestos and was later diagnosed with mesothelioma,” she said.

“I thought it was due to the high exposure of asbestos through his work.”

It wasn’t until Mrs Ryan went to see her doctor after her breathing become laboured that the reality of even slight exposure to asbestos revealed itself.

“I saw a thoracic surgeon and ended up having two litres of water drained from my lungs,” Mrs Ryan said.

“A week later, he rang me while I was home alone and told me I had mesothelioma.”

Mrs Ryan and her husband, John, made an appointment with oncologist Alex Powell, who told her he could promise her months – but not years – if she underwent chemotherapy treatment.

The chemotherapy has so far shrunk a tumour in Mrs Ryan’s lung, leading it to stay dormant for the time being.

She is now determined to make people aware of how deadly asbestos can be.

“There is still a lot of people who still don’t understand,” she said.

“People were asking me if I had mesothelioma, because I smoked, which I never did. They just didn’t realise you could get it through exposure to asbestos.

“My five siblings were all exposed like me. It really is a lottery.”

Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia president Robert Vojakovic said people were playing Russian roulette with their lives if they chose to renovate their homes without getting it checked for asbestos first.

“It normally takes about 40 years to manifest itself,” Mr Vojakovic said.

“Even slight exposure through a neighbour pulling down an asbestos fence can cause asbestos related illness.”

Did you know?

- Australia was the world’s largest user
of asbestos (per capita) and as a result
has one if the highest incidence rates of
mesothelioma in the world, with 4 million
residents affected by it.
- Asbestos cement products were
common in WA from 1921 to 1987.
- Exercise extreme caution when
renovating homes built before 1987.
- Asbestos may be present in exterior
walls, internal walls (especially in wet
areas), fencing, roofing, shingles and
siding, eaves, backing material on floor
tiles and vinyl flooring, and water or flue
- Further information on asbestos
removal, visit www.asbestosinfo.com.

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What everyone else is thinking



The manufacturers of Asbestos were aware of the problems of Asbestos decades ago.
Our family bought a new Asbestos Clad house, in 1960.
Not long after, my parents became aware of the dangers, and promptly Cling Wrapped the house in Plastic Paint.
The house was painted every five years, until it had four layers of plastic paint.
Paint can be sprayed on most effectivly, and is the least expensive way of painting Large Areas.
Old suburbs with acreages of asbestos roofing, and fencing spray painted would be much more cost effective than the costs to society from the health problems of so many innocent victims.
Every Asbestos House, or House containing Asbestos should have a removal Plan in place when the house is listed for sale..
Marking on Title Deeds the Asbestos on the property,
and later, listing that it has been removed will allow any new neighbours to know in advance how caring the area is that they are considering buying into.

Councils should lead by example.



Gazza - Sorry but your advice that asbestos sheeting is harmless if wet with water is not correct. Wetting or spraying water to prevent asbestos fibres becoming airborne is only effective when the product being sprayed/wetted contains Chrysotile (white) asbestos. It does not prevent Crocidolite (blue) or Amosite (brown) asbestos fibes from becoming airborne as these fibres repel water (that is they are hydrophobic).



We now know it is dangerous if the dust is breathed...but it seems councils have overreacted with the costs of removal...Asbestos sheeting is harmless if simply WET with water prior to removal...when west there can BE no dust to breathe in...
Around Perth there are acres of old roofing and fencing sloughing off dust into the air we breathe...and nothing is being done about this...If the councils were dinkum, every house in their jurisdiction should be inspected...and the fences and roofs removed...while wet...
We will never see this happen...because of the cost...Q.E.D.

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