02:22 pm, Thursday 6 September, 2012
Wittenoom kids playing
in an asbestos sandpit
Photo: Asbestos Diseases
Society of Australia Inc.
Children who were exposed to asbestos in Wittenoom, Western Australia are now suffering a range of asbestos –related diseases or dying at a rate well above the average population, according to a study conducted by researchers from The University of Western Australia for the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research (WAIMR).
Wittenoom was Australia’s only supplier of blue asbestos during the 1950s and early 1960s before mining ceased in 1966. The town was shut down the same year because of increasing health concerns from asbestos exposure in the area.
The study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine was the first to examine the long-term health condition of children exposed to asbestos at Wittenoom.
According to a news release from The University of Western Australia, girls up to the age of 15 who lived in Wittenoom have greater risks of dying from mesothelioma, ovarian and brain cancers and increased mortality rates. Boys who spent their childhood and early teenage years in the town during the years that asbestos mining was active (1943-1966) are now suffering from elevated rates of mesothelioma, leukaemia, prostate, brain and colorectal cancer, diseases of the circulatory and nervous system, and excessive mortality rates.
“The original township was only 1.6km from the mine,” said leading researcher on the paper, WAIMR’s Associate Professor Alison Reid.
“Later in 1947, when the population grew, the township was moved 12km away from the mine site but tailings from the mine were used throughout the town.
“These tailings, rich in crocidolite fibres, were used to pave roads, footpaths, parking areas, the local racecourse and school playgrounds. They were even used in people’s backyards, where of course, children often played,” she said.
“These “Wittenoom kids” are now reaching the age where chronic adult diseases are becoming more prevalent and many have died.”
The study found that 2460 children from Wittenoom were documented to have been exposed to blue asbestos before the age of 15. Median age of their first exposure was at three years of age.
By the end of 2007, 228 former Wittenoom residents had died. By the end of 2009, 215 cases of cancer were reported in 207 people which means that compared with the general population in Western Australia, girls from Wittenoom have had a 20-47 percent greater risk of dying from any cause, while boys have had a 50-83 percent increased chance of dying from any cause.
“We will continue to follow this group to provide important information on the long-term implications of exposure to asbestos during childhood,” said Prof Reid.
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