02:31 pm, Wednesday 14 March, 2007
Article from: AAP
AUSTRALIA has one of the highest rates of asbestos-related disease in the world, according to a new report.
The international analysis, published in the Lancet journal, found a clear link between historic asbestos use and recent asbestos-related disease deaths.
The Japanese researchers analysed the amount of asbestos consumption per head of population in 33 countries during the 1960s, the decade when the product rose in popularity.
They compared consumption with rates of related lung and chest diseases between 2000 to 2004, and gave Australia one of the highest placings worldwide.
The team said their results foreshadowed a “global epidemic” of asbestos-related disease which was a cause for “widespread concern”.
“This ecological study reveals clear and plausible positive relations between amounts of historical asbestos consumption and deaths from diseases associated with asbestos,” they wrote in the journal.
“Our results lend support to the notion that all countries should move towards eliminating the use of asbestos.”
Asbestos, and building products containing the fibres, were banned Australia-wide in 2003, but every year hundreds still die from conditions sparked by contact with the product decades ago.
The illnesses, including asbestosis, lung cancer, pleural disorders and the lethal cancer mesothelioma, have been the subject of a large-scale compensation deal involving the building company James Hardie.
Asbestos researcher Alison Reid, from the University of Western Australia, said the number of Australians dying from the disease would not peak for another decade.
“After that the rate should start to drop off but it will take us a while. Australia is just riddled with it,” Ms Reid said.
“We took it up so enthusiastically, importing it, mining it, using it everywhere in everything.”
Treatment for the disease is very limited, and it is universally fatal, with most patients living just nine months between diagnosis and death.
Some doctors have had limited success with chemotherapy and radical surgery, but Ms Reid said it was only palliative care, not a cure.
She said that despite the study’s alarming results, there was little point in screening for the disease.
“Even if we find people who have it, we have virtually no treatment to offer them,” Ms Reid said.
“You’d just be really frightening people.”