White Lung

White Lung

If there were no bad people there would be no good lawyers

Charles Dickens 1

Aimagesbestos is a generic term for a naturally occurring substance that includes six silicate minerals with distinctive elongated fibrous crystals. The soft flexible fibres are easily extruded into a tensile fluffy material, which is resistant to heat, electricity and chemical corrosion and the product became synonymous with insulation. It was often admixed with other building materials to increase strength, resilience and durability. Its intrinsic properties, commercial availability and economic viability created widespread demand for a distinctive material. Indeed, by the turn of the twentieth century many countries were mining vast quantities of the mineral to satisfy burgeoning requirements. 24

The air that I breathe

Asbestos was used for embalming in ancient Egypt and additional archaeological evidence suggests it may have been prevalent during the Stone Age. The Roman historian, Pliny described slaves using animal bladders as respirators when handling the material and they often became sick or violently ill and died prematurely. Asbestos was also prevalent in many fabrics during the middle ages. Its heat resistance was observed and noted by Marco Polo in Mongolia during the late 13th century. On a brief visit to England in 1725, Benjamin Franklin carried a purse made from asbestos fibres. It was a souvenir from a Russian sojourn, where white asbestos was mined under the helm of Peter the Great. 512

In the early 1800s, the substance was woven into Italian banknotes to make them fireproof and indestructible. It was also used to insulate helmets and uniforms and afford additional protection to firemen in the Paris Fire Brigade around middle of the 19th century. During the industrial revolution asbestos was highly esteemed and its use increased exponentially. Its distinctive properties were ideal for insulating boilers, steam engines, electric generators, ovens, ancillary vessels and pipelines. This created an unprecedented demand for the material and during 1879 commercial mining commenced at the Jeffrey mine near Asbestos in the Canadian province of Quebec. It was followed by similar operations throughout Australia, Russia, South Africa and the United States and by the turn of the 20th century, global production exceeded 30,000 tons. 1316

During the early 1900s, many medical physicians expressed extreme concern regarding occupational dust lung diseases or fibroses and it was reinforced via alarming evidence from United Kingdom factory inspectors. A British royal commission into asbestos related fatalities recommended better ventilation and additional preventive measures. This was supported by statistical reports from the Prudential Insurance Company in the United States, which established a compelling correlation between premature death and asbestos exposure. Indeed, many underwriters increased premiums or refused to insure organisations. Meanwhile, the Johns Manville Corporation became a global leader in the manufacture and supply of asbestos containing products. 1720

The first compensation claim for an asbestos related illness was accepted in 1927 by the Massachusetts Industrial Accident Board and many more were filed over subsequent years. The disease was formally described as asbestosis by British pathologist William Cooke and it established a causal nexus to inhalation of the toxic dust. Subsequent civil actions against Johns Manville, Raybestos Manhattan and many other manufacturers usually resulted in out of court settlements, which were often protected via secrecy orders. However, documents from legal proceedings confirm executives often sanitised or redacted research reports and frequently suppressed information covering the toxicity of asbestos. 2127

During 1930, the Merewether report published by the British factory inspectorate provided substantive evidence of the associated risks with asbestos exposure. Additional medical research also confirmed the substance was carcinogenic. The Inspector of Factories and Shops in Western Australia reported on the potential health effects from asbestos exposure at a James Hardie manufacturing plant in Perth. Indeed, many public health officials and medical physicians mounted vigorous campaigns to prevent exposure but their valiant efforts were often vilified, disregarded or ignored. 2829

In the 1930s crocidolite deposits were discovered in the Pilbarra region of Western Australia. The Dreesen Standard was established by US public health authorities to restrict asbestos exposure. It was merely a symbolic threshold limit and much like a public transport timetable it informs people the trains or buses are running late. Meanwhile, the fecund and venal Lang Hancock opened a primitive asbestos crushing plant at Wittenoom in North West Australia and the operations were eventually acquired by CSR Limited in 1948. 3036

During the 1940s the Samac laboratory in New York verified the causal nexus between asbestos and cancer although Johns Manville suppressed the report. Health hazards were identified at an asbestos mill near Zeehan in Tasmania and the first case of asbestosis was reported at Wittenoom in Western Australia. Excessive dust at this site generated serious concerns amongst statutory officials and atmosphere monitoring over several years revealed levels regularly exceeded prescribed limits. Despite repeated warnings to senior executives and management the hazardous conditions prevailed. 3741

In 1950, the commissioner of public health in Western Australia expressed concerns to the state health minister and feared the consequences were far worse than silicosis. This was reinforced by a statutory mining engineer who was very critical about inadequate ventilation at Wittenoom and the corporate indifference towards statutory requirements. Regulatory authorities adopted the Dreesen exposure standard although the dust levels often exceeded prescribed limits. This prompted additional warnings, which were repeatedly disregarded by senior management. In the United Kingdom the toll from asbestos related fatalities reached 235 and additional deaths were recorded in Italy and France. 4243

During 1955 further irrefutable evidence from epidemiologist Dr. Richard Doll confirmed that asbestos fibres caused lung cancer and cigarette smoking exacerbated the condition. This was followed by the emergence of mesothelioma amongst South African and Australian asbestos miners. In the late 1950s an additional six cases of lung damage were recorded at the CSR Wittenoom site in Western Australia. 4448

In the early 1960s UK statutory authorities implemented additional stringent controls and significantly reduced the asbestos dust exposure standard. However, the first fatality from mesothelioma was recorded in Australia and respiratory disorders amongst previous and current workers at CSR Wittenoom were rapidly escalating. The regional council became extremely concerned and believed excessive asbestos dust could threaten the health of tourists. Moreover, respiratory diseases at CSR Wittenoom exceeded the cumulative total from all other mines across Western Australia. This created condemnation from the federal government and declining asbestos prices also constrained productivity. Asbestos mining and milling activities at Wittenoom eventually became uneconomical and CSR ceased site operations on the 31st December 1966. 4951

In Australia during the late 1960s amphibole asbestos was used as a loose fill insulator and pumped into the roof cavities of many houses in Canberra and New South Wales. However, as knowledge about its toxicity emerged, unions commenced industrial action and banned its use on building and construction sites. During the 1970s, the toll from Wittenoom continued to escalate with the diagnosis of 175 asbestos related illnesses and 27 confirmed fatalities. The Bulletin magazine carried a cover story on the dangers of blue asbestos……Is this killer in your home? 5257

As the 1970s waned, asbestos use significantly increased and imports escalated. In 1977, union members throughout Victoria began industrial action over asbestos contamination in Melbourne’s Blue Harris trains. The company insulating homes in Canberra and New South Wales with loose fill friable asbestos ceased operations. A married man who worked at CSR Wittenoom for over 12 years became the first mesothelioma victim to initiate civil action. The writ was issued against a subsidiary company with the sanitised name of Midalco (formerly Australian Blue Asbestos). It had no significant assets, limited insurance and operated under the corporate veil of CSR Limited. The plaintiff died before the case reached court and his widow terminated proceedings. 5863

CSR Wittenoom failed to understand the hazards associated with asbestos exposure and mitigate the risk. It eventually acknowledged its liability and claims from several mesothelioma victims were successful. However, its legal team often resorted to aggressive and premeditated procrastinating tactics. The toll continued escalating with more than 500 confirmed cases amidst forecasts that it may affect several thousand people. Back in Canberra the federal and territory governments developed strategies covering the removal of asbestos and restoration of properties involved in the Mr Fluffy loose fill asbestos home insulation catastrophe. 6468

At the end of the 1980s the first of several major legal battles with James Hardie emerged. This involved several successful product liability and negligence verdicts, which opened the floodgates to an urban nightmare. During the late 1990s, amendments to legislation relating to dust diseases were enacted in New South Wales by Bob Carr’s labour government. An extensive public report on chrysotile asbestos was also published via the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme. 6972

As the new millennium dawned, James Hardie faced increasing demands from unions to recognise statutory obligations and compensate incapacitated workers. Its recalcitrant response included extremely aggressive tactics supported by cunning political chicanery to circumvent accountability and protect existing assets. It was furtively supported by a brutal neoliberal federal government, which offered little solace or salvation to the terminally ill victims. Indeed, the prime minister extirpated the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission and deferred ratification of International Labour Organization Convention C155. Servile assistance was readily provided by Peter Reith, Kevin Andrews, Tony Abbott and Jeremy Ellis AO, a former BHP chairman acting as a lobbyist for the resources sector. 7380

In 2001 James Hardie established the Medical Research and Compensation Foundation and provided funding of almost $300 million to cover future asbestos liabilities. However, the organisation covertly established a holding company, relocated to the Netherlands and bequeathed a compensation fund with a massive financial deficit. A subsequent judicial inquiry in New South Wales was extremely critical of its actions. 8184

Following a public outcry and intervention from the state government, the organisation was forced to renegotiate an equitable deal. Greg Combet was appointed as the lead negotiator and after several years of intense conflict a settlement was eventually reached. It included a $4 billion dollar fund to fulfil obligations to incapacitated victims. The prosecution of several executives and board members followed and the legal struggle continues as James Hardie persists with attempts to circumvent accountability and protect its assets. 8587

On the 31st December 2003 a nationwide ban prohibited the manufacture and use of asbestos and asbestos containing materials throughout Australia. A national centre was established in Western Australia for asbestos related diseases and on 28th January 2008, Wittenoom was legally classified as a contaminated site. 8890

In January 2009, the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute was officially opened at Concord in New South Wales. The malfeasance and corporate turpitude from James Hardie was exposed by ABC journalist, Matt Peacock. In Far North Queensland, Cyclone Yasi destroyed many fibro homes, which launched a media campaign to highlight the risks of asbestos exposure amongst the local community, emergency response personnel and humanitarian aid providers. 9195

In 2012 the High Court of Australia ruled that seven James Hardie directors had breached their duties by approving the provision of misleading information to the Australian Stock Exchange. An asbestos management review report recommended development of a national strategic plan to improve asbestos management and awareness amongst the broader community. 9697

On the 1st July 2013 the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency was established to provide a national focus on asbestos issues. Its scope extends beyond workplace safety issues and encompasses public health and environmental risks. During 2014, the Bernie Banton Foundation established an asbestos awareness campaign, which provides extensive information about the associated risks. 98101

Since the loose fill asbestos home insulation scheme began back in 1968, over 1000 properties in the Australian Capital Territory remain contaminated. A taskforce was established to coordinate safe removal of the substance. However, a subsequent report recommended demolition, which commenced in 2015 and was considered the best solution given the potential health risks. Meanwhile, the federal government launched a revised national strategic plan for asbestos management and awareness. 102106

In New South Wales, following a joint select committee inquiry, the government proposed a voluntary purchase and demolition scheme for affected properties in the surrounding regions. A task force was established to conduct a cost benefit analysis and demolition of homes in the Queanbeyan region commenced in January 2017. 107110

There can be no doubt that asbestos has created a public health disaster and the lethal mineral has left a legacy of disease and misery in many workplaces and communities throughout the world. Even though the manufacture and use of asbestos was banned throughout Australia in 2003, it is often found in many older and heritage listed buildings. It is occasionally discovered in building materials and components of several imported products especially from countries such as Brazil, Russia, India or China. Australia has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma with 700 cases recorded during 2016 and an increase is inevitable given its inherent latency. Statistics indicate most cases involve males, who are exposed to asbestos during high risk activities. This includes building and construction, firefighting, shipbuilding and other industrial work…..Sometimes all I need is the air that I breathe. 111119

Every breath you take

Asbestos is a generic, commercial and legal term that encompasses several types of mineral silicates. It is defined in the US Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act 1986, which recognises six types of asbestos that are categorised as a serpentine or amphibole mineral.

Serpentine asbestos consists of curly fibres that form structured sheets or layers of crystals. It is colloquially referred to as white asbestos and is the most frequently encountered form of the material throughout the industrial world. Its technical or scientific name is chrysotile, which is the only serpentine class of the mineral. Amphibole asbestos consists of fine needle shaped fibres and became commercially available as amosite (brown asbestos) or crocidolite (blue asbestos). Several other types of amphibole asbestos have been identified as contaminants in common minerals such as talc and vermiculite. 120124

Chrysotile or white asbestos was used in a wide range of building products and the US and Canada were major producers of this mineral. It was often contaminated with amphibole asbestos, which increased its toxicity. The material was used extensively in shipbuilding, especially during the Second World War for insulating boilers and lagging pipelines. It is commonly encountered in roof voids or ceilings and in the walls and floors of domestic and commercial buildings. The substance became synonymous with insulation and was also used in the manufacture of gaskets and automotive brake linings. 125

Amosite or grunerite is a commercial term for brown asbestos and an acronym for asbestos mines of South Africa, where it is still produced and used for manufacturing cement sheets and insulating pipes. The material is occasionally discovered in gaskets, ceiling or roofing tiles, thermal insulation products and sometimes detected in insulating panels of high voltage electrical switch rooms. It is not as prevalent as white asbestos although it is significantly more toxic and increases the risk of contracting mesothelioma. 126128

Crocidolite is a commercial term for blue asbestos, which was mined extensively throughout South Africa, Bolivia and Australia and regularly used to insulate steam engines. It has been found in casings of lead acid batteries, cement sheets, ceiling tiles, fire resistant panels and was even used in cigarette filters. The extremely fine fibres can easily penetrate and remain inside lung tissue, which may be a significant contributory factor in many asbestos related diseases and fatalities……Every breath you take and every move you make. 129131

Anthophyllite is also known as azbolen asbestos and is an exceptionally rare form of mineral. It was mined in Finland and Japan although commercial applications were very limited. The material was occasionally admixed with cement, rubber compounds and also used in roofing and insulating materials. It may have a grey, dull green or white appearance and has been identified as a contaminant in chrysotile asbestos and other minerals. 132133

Tremolite asbestos is hardly ever encountered in consumer products yet almost 35,000 tonnes of the substance is mined annually throughout Rajasthan in India. It is occasionally detected as a contaminant in roofing and insulating materials and has been discovered in paints and sealants. The fibres are normally white, green or grey and trace impurities have been identified in several domestic and commercially available products. 134135

Actinolite asbestos occurs as dark green crystals in metamorphous rocks or fibrous aggregates. Its texture is much less tensile than other forms of the mineral and it has never been a commercially viable product. Nonetheless, evidence of this mineral has been found in other forms of asbestos and incidental contamination may increase the risk of asbestos related illness. 136137

Low concentrations of naturally occurring asbestiform minerals have been identified in household cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and other commercial products such as talcum powder and vermiculite. More recently in July 2015, minute traces of asbestos were detected in several brands of imported children’s crayons sold within Australia. 138139

Talc is an extremely soft mineral and an ingredient in many consumer products such as chalk, paint, rubber, ceramics and pharmaceuticals. It is used extensively in the manufacture of talcum powder and other personal hygiene products. Numerous mesothelioma class actions have emerged in the United States following use of contaminated cosmetics. 140141

In September 2009, the US Food and Drug Administration organised a survey of talcum powder and other cosmetics in an attempt to quantify the risk. The investigation and analyses was subcontracted to AMA Analytical Services and no asbestos contaminants were detected. The results were not statistically significant and merely informative. Talc samples were received from only four suppliers and analysis was restricted to 34 cosmetic products. The findings were unable to guarantee all talcum powder and associated products currently marketed in the United States were likely to be free of asbestos. 142146

Vermiculite is a benign mineral, which is exfoliated to produce a light weight and buoyant material that is ideal for insulation, packaging and improving soil quality. Much of the vermiculite sold in the United States throughout the 20th century originated from mining operations at Libby in Montana. The product was heavily contaminated with tremolite asbestos and sold as an attic insulation product under the commercial brand name of Zonolite. The speciality chemicals conglomerate W. R. Grace took over operations in 1963 and was fully aware of the contamination and associated health risks but remained silent and mining continued until 1990. Surplus vermiculite was distributed for landscaping playgrounds, gardens, nature strips and sports ovals…..…Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence. 147149

The desolation and deceit was eventually exposed by investigative journalists in 1999. It was declared a public health emergency and assigned to the Superfund National Priorities List by the Environmental Protection Agency. The mine ceased operating in 1990 although the devastation was only disclosed about 10 years later. It gained national attention and intervention via the Environmental Protection Agency eventually followed. 150153

In 2008 the company agreed to pay $250 million towards remediation costs and by 2016 over 7,300 properties had been investigated. Restoration was completed at an additional 2,275 locations, which included abandoned processing plants, recreational facilities, schools, parks, playgrounds and many other contaminated public places. Several hundred sites still require rehabilitation and complete restoration will take many more years.……..It’s easy to write the history. All the eyewitnesses are dead. 154158

An estimated 400 residents in the township have died and an additional 3,000 are suffering from asbestos related respiratory diseases. Many locals and former W. R. Grace employees filed lawsuits against the state and claim it failed to warn them about the risk of contaminated vermiculite. In 2011 a district court judge approved a $43 million settlement for more than 1300 plaintiffs. Another major compensation claim was awarded in January 2017, with over 1000 litigants receiving $25 million. Montana agencies remain steadfast and claim the state had no legal obligation to issue any warnings about the risk of asbestos contamination. The corporate turpitude was neatly summarised by Andrew Schneider, an investigative journalist with the Seattle Post – Intelligencer…………..Uncivil action: A town left to die. 159165

Another one bites the dust

The discovery of asbestos during the late 1880s coincided with rapid industrialisation and its unique properties made it a perfect material with unlimited applications and it was commonly used as a fire retardant in timber buildings. During the 20th century asbestos was prevalent in almost every industrial environment across Australia and was particularly common in manufacturing facilities, power generation plants and transport. It was used in a wide variety of applications as cladding, coating, lagging, cloth, rope, mattresses and fibreboard and was also admixed with cement and used as a building material. 166169

It is occasionally discovered in the roofing and exterior or interior panels of many older dwellings, schools and hospitals, especially those constructed before the mid-1980s. Indeed, the material became synonymous with insulation and was frequently used inside electrical switchboards, switch rooms, substations and distribution panels. It was adopted throughout the marine industry as lagging inside boiler rooms and for insulating auxiliary pipelines on board vessels. During the 1950s its use increased exponentially to meet the demands of a post war housing boom. The composite materials were manufactured in Australia by the acolytes of Apollyon, which included James Hardie, CSR and Wunderlich. Their products were usually promoted as sensational building solutions and aggressively marketed using hidden persuaders. Asbestos was a component in the structural features of many housing commission properties throughout western Sydney and the eastern suburbs of Perth. 170174

Its increasing availability and popularity extended to the construction of many public and civic buildings throughout the 1970s and asbestos containing products inundated the Australian occupational environment. It was driven via increasing demand from impulsive consumers and supplemented by product diversification from manufacturers and suppliers. Many tradespersons and assistants were unaware of the asbestos content and oblivious to the associated risks, especially its latent and potentially fatal consequences. Exposure to the substance frequently occurred during refurbishment and replacement of external and internal building panels. This often required cutting, grinding, drilling and sanding of asbestos containing materials. The imports of asbestos fibre and consumption of associated products did not peak until the mid-1970s and the potentially devastating consequences can only be estimated. 175177

In Australia, initial exposure to the substance in an occupational environment involved the mining, milling, stevedoring and logistics supply chain sectors. Labourers frequently handled the raw material at remote mining sites and during transit to manufacturing and extrusion plants across Australia. Major mining operations included Wittenoom in the Pilbarra region of Western Australia, Woodsreef on the northern tablelands of New South Wales and Baryugil near Grafton. Employees at these sites and the local communities often tolerated prolonged exposure to asbestos dust. The material was imported or delivered to regional ports and handled by stevedores during the loading and unloading activities. Conditions at Point Samson wharf in the Pilbarra region of Western Australia were described as somewhat primitive. This involved frequent manual handling of unlined hessian bags amidst clouds of asbestos dust without adequate ventilation or suitable personal protective equipment. 178182

Manufacturing facilities were established in most state capitals across Australia to meet the demand of a post war housing construction boom. Suppliers offered an extensive range of asbestos containing materials, which included fibreboards, pipes, cement sheeting and other building supplies. Asbestos was also used in automotive brake and clutch assemblies, which were manufactured for almost 50 years by Bendix Mintex at its Delacombe factory near Ballarat in Victoria. 183186

The manufacturing arena was dominated by James Hardie and several other companies including CSR Limited and Wunderlich and their employees were often exposed to asbestos dust. Mitigation strategies invariably encountered resistance and an insouciant response from senior management. Corrective actions were typically indolent and their ineffectiveness was usually concealed via superficial compliance and enforcement protocols. 187190

In the mining and manufacturing sectors most employers, employees and contractors were unconcerned about the insidious and dormant aspects of asbestos dust exposure. The associated risks were usually disregarded, which inevitably generated a preliminary surge of asbestos related diseases. This included asbestosis that developed relatively soon following initial exposure. In some cases it caused lung cancer and mesothelioma, which has an extended latency period and symptoms only emerged after several decades. The disease has also extended to immediate family members and dependents, who were particularly vulnerable when washing overalls and other garments contaminated with asbestos dust and fibres. 191193

Following mining and manufacturing of asbestos many employees were exposed to its fibres and excessive dust. This frequently occurred during the commissioning, maintenance and service of plant or equipment supplied with asbestos containing materials. It encompassed, power generation, rail maintenance workshops and shipbuilding or repairs. Fibreboards, sheets, tiles, pipes and conduits required drilling and cutting and were often assembled in situ, which generated excessive amounts of dust. Boilermakers, electricians, carpenters, gasfitters, plumbers, trades assistants and other workers performing incidental activities were particularly vulnerable. This typically involved the installation or refurbishment of high voltage switchboards, lagging of vessels and ancillary pipelines in boiler rooms and acoustic treatment of walls and ceilings inside buildings. 194197

Asbestos insulating sprays were quite common and several products were used extensively throughout construction of the World Trade Centre in Manhattan during the late 1960s. The current US legislation allows up to 1% by weight of asbestos in products. However, before the early 1980s products could contain between 5% and 50% of asbestos fibres. Many of these commodities were manufactured by W. R. Grace, the company involved in the contaminated vermiculite catastrophe at Libby in Montana. 198202

Asbestos was used extensively over many decades throughout many power stations across the Latrobe Valley in Victoria. It was ideal for absorbing the extreme heat generated during electricity production. Bags of dry asbestos were mixed with water in large open vessels to prepare a paste, which was manually applied to boilers, turbines and ancillary equipment. Laggers and their assistants were frequently shrouded in clouds of dust and exposed to significant amounts of asbestos fibres. The employer did not provide any personal protective equipment and no warnings were issued about its inherent toxicity. 203204

Over 140,000 power station employees were exposed to asbestos between the 1920s and 1980s. The legacy is evident via the mesothelioma incidence rate, which is seven times the state average. In 2008, the state premier issued a formal apology to the casualties and their dependents. It acknowledged the pain and suffering and recognised that victims deserved access to provisional damages. Back in 1992 a former neoliberal premier, Jeff Kennett deviously abolished common law rights of incapacitated employees. This was eventually repealed by a labour government during the tenure of Steve Bracks although several retrospective restrictions applied. 205210

Similar primitive conditions were described at East Perth power station in Western Australia, where enormous quantities of asbestos containing products were used to insulate steam driven generating plant and equipment. It was an asbestos time bomb in a very hot, dirty and extremely noisy environment. The activities often involved removing and replacing asbestos lagging during routine maintenance and random repairs. Many workers were unaware of the hazardous conditions and preventive action only occurred during the 1970s, shortly before the power station was decommissioned and finally shut down in 1981. Several employees became victims of asbestos related diseases, including mesothelioma although establishing the precise number of casualties was almost impossible. Health surveillance and screening protocols were never organised and medical diagnostic facilities were unavailable. However, the inherent latency period and epidemiological studies indicate the toll of asbestos related diseases amongst former employees is likely to escalate. 211215

Significant exposure to asbestos fibres also occurred during refurbishment of locomotives at the state government rail maintenance workshops in Midland, east of Perth. The regime was rather primitive and involved stripping engines and removal and replacement of weathered asbestos mattresses or blocks that insulated locomotive boilers. Rolling stock would arrive at the maintenance workshop bays each week and revamping would generate clouds of white or blue asbestos dust. Many of the fitters, mechanics and their assistants were unaware of its toxicity and often emerged covered in the material. Respiratory protective devices were never used and natural ventilation was considered adequate. The asbestos residues were merely shovelled into wheelbarrows and dumped in the immediate surrounds to await some unsuspecting landscape contractors. 216217

Other potential sources of exposure include mechanics in local government workshops and automotive repair garages. Brake and clutch systems in many fleet vehicles and private cars often contained asbestos products. Repair and maintenance would inevitably result in exposure to asbestos fibres and mesothelioma symptoms could manifest many years later following the initial exposure. The unique properties and availability of asbestos ensured its use became widespread across a diverse range of applications and in many products. Its subsequent acute and chronic health effects following exposure were often ignored and another stream of asbestosis related diseases has emerged. 218220

During the 20th century asbestos was prevalent in almost every Australian home. Many fibro houses were built using the material. It was also a component in some domestic appliances and even appeared in several consumer goods. The laity was invariably nonchalant about the substance, especially friable asbestos and many were unaware of its inherent toxicity and the potentially lethal health effects following exposure to its fibres. It was admixed with cement and became an extremely popular building material during Australia’s post war housing construction boom and featured in almost 20% of housing stock. 221222

The construction of fibro dwellings was usually restricted to lower socioeconomic regions, especially throughout New South Wales, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, which included many housing commission properties. Asbestos cement sheets and fibreboards were also used in more affluent suburbs for home improvements during the construction of sheds, garages, home extensions and fencing. Many of the occupied properties have aged and weathered to expose asbestos fibres, which has created a significant public health risk. Home renovations, refurbishments and demolition significantly increases the likelihood of releasing fibres into the immediate surrounds. Moreover, tracking waste disposal is quite a complex exercise, especially amongst environmentally conscious building and construction contractors. 223227

Asbestos residues from mining and milling operations were often used for grading access roads and driveways. Mine tailings at Wittenoom in Western Australia were used as a suppressant for red dust. Waste material was dispersed around playgrounds, schools and kindergartens much like the contaminated vermiculite at Libby in Montana. Asbestos was usually supplied in unlined hessian bags, which were eventually recycled for fertiliser deliveries and even used as underlay for domestic and commercial carpets. Its lethal legacy has extended throughout many urban and rural communities. 228232

Asbestos was also used to insulate domestic appliances including electric blankets, oven mitts, stove mats and hairdryers. Many tradespersons remain nonchalant about the potential health effects and it has generated another wave of asbestos related diseases, which are often diagnosed as mesothelioma. Most of the victims are usually unaware of how and when exposure occurred. The incidence rate is unlikely to peak until the second decade in the new millennium……………..And another one gone and another one gone and another one bites the dust. 233236

On the turning away

Substantive evidence indicates asbestos has caused a public health disaster and the lethal mineral has left a trail of misery and suffering. The impact in the occupational environment where it was mined, milled and manufactured has been devastating. Its use extends to public buildings, schools and homes and it is often found in building materials and domestic appliances. There are many asbestos related diseases, which include asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. If asbestos dust is inhaled, its fibres can penetrate the respiratory or digestive tract. Many are excreted naturally although some become entrapped and cause irritation, inflammation, pleural effusion and even genetic damage. 237244

Asbestosis can occur within ten years following the inhalation of excessive amounts of asbestos dust or fibres. It can result in extensive tissue damage or atelectasis, which inhibits normal expansion and contraction of the lungs. Other symptoms include pulmonary fibrosis and pleurisy that creates severe chest pain and impairs breathing. Mesothelioma has an extended latency period and usually develops in the pleural or abdominal membranes. There are several types of mesothelioma and it is the only cancer exclusively attributed to asbestos exposure. 245248

The most common form of the disease is pleural mesothelioma, which occurs when trapped asbestos fibres irritate pulmonary membranes. This causes chronic inflammation, genetic mutations and the cells eventually become cancerous. Malignant tumours usually develop on either layer of the respiratory lining and can multiply aggressively to surround the pleural membrane. The condition typically affects elderly males and life expectancy following diagnosis is usually less than 18 months. 249251

Peritoneal mesothelioma is less prevalent and damages the peritoneum or abdominal membrane. Asbestos fibres reach the abdomen directly by ingestion or via inhalation and indirectly through the lymphatic system. The symptoms include abdominal pain and distension which are often accompanied by constipation or diarrhoea. It accounts for less than 20% of mesothelioma cases although patients generally live four times longer than pleural mesothelioma victims. Pericardial and testicular mesotheliomas have been identified but are extremely rare and recent studies have linked asbestos exposure to ovarian and laryngeal cancer. 252257

In the United States, occupational exposure is the most significant cause of asbestos related diseases and despite enactment of legislation in the 1970s, incidence rates have remained constant. Almost 200,000 Americans are diagnosed with asbestosis annually and there are approximately 15,000 fatalities from asbestos related diseases. Additional statistics from the National Cancer Institute indicates up to 3,000 people are identified with mesothelioma each year. The diagnosis of asbestos related diseases is quite complex and includes an extensive range of diagnostic tests such as X-rays, medical imaging, blood tests and biopsies. It requires aggressive and radical treatment involving transdisciplinary specialist techniques, which include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy. 258261

Most of the victims diagnosed with asbestos related diseases endure a significant amount of unnecessary suffering and an extremely painful death. Extensive legal resources are often engaged to diffuse and defuse any civil action and compensation claims into divisive and harmless channels of impenetrable bureaucracy. This corporate turpitude is bereft of any salvation or compassion and is tantamount to androcide. Meanwhile, brutal socially autistic psychopaths are appointed to maximise profit at the expense of their employee’s health and welfare. Servile mercenaries provide ample support and often slither and weave to protect reputations and avoid accountability. It has been replicated over many years by repeated duplicity and skulduggery from many corporate behemoths. This is evident in many of the callous and inhumane comments from executive leaders at Raybestos Manhattan, Bendix and Johns Manville during their fulminations about asbestos and its potentially lethal health effects. Moreover, the following quote from Charles Dickens resonates….If there were no bad people there would be no good lawyers. 262269

Australia has witnessed several successive waves of asbestos related diseases and the scourge was initially confined to mining and manufacturing sectors. It has since extended into many communities and become a significant public health risk. The improbity from CSR Limited at Wittenoom and more recently James Hardie was and remains deplorable. Both organisations embarked on a ruthless mission to evade accountability, socialise loss and minimise billion dollar liabilities as the death toll soared. Meredith Hellicar, a former senior executive at James Hardie, may wish to reflect on some pertinent lyrics from a Pink Floyd classic….…Don’t accept that what’s happening is just a case of others’ suffering or you’ll find that you’re joining in the turning away. 270275

Mr. Blue $ky

The Karijini National Park in the Pilbarra region of Western Australia is an impressive tourist destination surrounded by enchanting ochre escarpments with deep intermingling emerald green gorges. However, the spectacular scenery disguises a miasma of broken dreams and sorrow, which shrouds its adjacent ghost town at Wittenoom. It has achieved notoriety as a harbinger of death and disease through reckless mining and milling of crocidolite over many decades. 276279

During 1937, Lang Hancock from the neighbouring pastoral station at Mulga Downs began primitive blue asbestos mining and milling activities at Yampire Gorge. Many unemployed and vulnerable migrants flocked to the region and were callously deceived and exploited by a fecund and socially autistic moneygrubbing mercenary. The conditions were appalling and many itinerants slept in tents almost a kilometre from the mine. Senior supervisors and other employees were offered basic accommodation via a dozen neighbouring cabins. The entire operation was a filthy hellhole and almost 200 peons were betrayed by a beguiling ruthless charlatan. The operations were eventually acquired by Australian Blue Asbestos, a subsidiary of CSR Limited but the Dickensian conditions prevailed. 280285

The mine consisted of several stopes and a crushing plant. Miners crawled along narrow tunnels in stifling heat amidst clouds of choking asbestos dust without any ventilation or respiratory protective equipment. It took almost 20 years before miners were provided with a suitable supply of fresh air. The ore was transferred via an open topped conveyor to the crushing plant, where it was pulverised and blue asbestos fibres were extracted from the residue. Mill operators worked extended shifts amongst swirling dust clouds and floodlights were provided to increase visibility, even during daylight hours. 286287

The finished product was transported in unlined hessian or jute bags via open topped trucks to Point Samson. It was stored in warehouses and manually loaded onto ships for distribution to overseas and local manufacturing facilities. The post war housing boom created an increasing demand for building materials and the company with assistance from the Western Australia state government provided additional infrastructure and established a township at Wittenoom. It was supported by an inhumane federal government policy and compulsory relocation scheme for unemployed migrants. 288291

Production significantly increased to meet global and domestic demands and the population swelled to almost 20,000. This consisted of itinerant employees, service providers and their families, which included almost 4,500 children. A rock hole in the river flowing through a nearby gorge became the local swimming pool and mine tailings were used to create a beach and sandpits for children. Waste asbestos was used for landscaping parks and gardens, school playgrounds and parking lots around the town. Other innovative applications included the grading of access roads and footpaths. It was also used for maintaining the local racetrack and green keeping at the golf course. 292294

The prevailing conditions hardly improved although exposure significantly increased and it merely became a matter of time before serious health effects emerged. Over 2,000 former employees and residents at Wittenoom died from asbestos related diseases and the toll will almost certainly escalate due to an inherent latency period. The incidence rate for malignant mesothelioma in Australia is a significant public health issue and epidemiological studies suggest up to 750 cases will be identified each year. The consequences could be even more serious because many itinerants returned to their country of origin and the subsequent health effects are unknown. 295298

It is incontestable that the company and governments were aware of the associated health risks. Even before the 1930s, an indisputable body of scientific evidence verified a causal nexus between asbestos exposure and respiratory diseases. A federal government health department publication from 1922 identified asbestos work as a hazardous occupation. Indeed many migrants were allocated to the Pilbarra region under a federal employment scheme and effectively sent to the gallows. 299301

The appalling conditions at Wittenoom were initially raised by Dr. Eric Saint from the Royal Flying Doctor Service back in 1948. These were reiterated to senior management during site visits in the late 1950s by Dr. Jim McNulty AO, an occupational physician with the state government health department. It was followed in 1961 by a stern letter from Dr. Bruce Hunt, a specialist from Western Australia, to the company physician Harry Maynard Rennie. However, the organisation threatened to cease its operations if statutory restrictions were applied. The government under its liberal premier Sir David Brand and resources minister, Sir Charles Court offered no resistance and capitulated……All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. 302310

Despite repeated warnings the recklessness continued unabated and the devastating consequences soon emerged. A thoracic physician at Sir Charles Gairdner hospital in Perth was astounded by escalating respiratory diseases amongst former Wittenoom employees. A succession of acrimonious legal battles was inevitable and a lawyer’s picnic opened in courthouses across Australia during the 1970s. The beguiling sludge on CSR’s website bequeaths a consciousness of corporate social responsibility but the company’s acronym is the only skerrick of evidence. Social licenses to operate are a patina of mendacity underpinned by a festering culture of deception. This was reflected via an adversarial and amoral internal memo from Norman Irving, the CSR personnel manager back in 1977…….Even if the workers die like flies, they will never be able to pin anything on CSR. 311316

Civil action against CSR from former Wittenoom employees began in the 1970s and the organisation relied on an enigmatic corporate veil to evade accountability and minimise its liabilities. The company name was sanitised to Midalco (formerly Australian Blue Asbestos, a subsidiary of CSR). It was discreetly stripped of any significant assets and provided with minimal insurance cover. The legal process was quite complex and involved penetrating an intricate labyrinth of corporate deception and establishing a causal nexus between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma. After several prolonged battles a pyrrhic victory emerged via the Heys and Barrow case, which established a legal precedent. The defendant’s legal team adopted a brutal scorched earth policy and ruthlessly exploited the plaintiff’s limited life expectancy. Despite the botox, haute couture and Kallis pearls, an illegitimate daughter of Satan with about as much compassion as Myra Hindley, resorted to inhumane delay, deny and die tactics. These sociopathic traits usually include the fleeting promise of sex really soon and were reflected in subsequent dalliances with numerous flamboyant racing identities, except Nathan Tinkler or Clive Palmer. One erstwhile paramour and politician breached legislation by referring to indigenous Australians……As the most primitive people on Earth. During one parliamentary sojourn the senator admitted concealing a .38 calibre pistol amidst allegations of smuggling almost $25,000 into Iraq on behalf of energy resources giant, Woodside Petroleum. He was also pictured toting an AK47 assault rifle amongst Kurdish militants. In 2007, the uncouth malapert was replaced in the senate by a former mistress, the harridan minister for jobs and innovation and retired from politics in 2008……Qui cum canibus concumbunt cum pulicibus surgent. 317335

It was the late firebrand Welsh politician Nye Bevan who described politics as a blood sport but the elected representatives provide plenty of ammunition. In 2011, Barnaby Joyce, Julie Bishop and Teresa Gambaro received an exclusive invitation from Gina Rinehart at Hancock Prospecting and her business partner Dr. G V K Reddy. A company private jet flew the trio to the lavish wedding of Mallika Reddy in Hyderabad. Return flights to Australia amounting to $12,000 were claimed as an overseas study allowance at the expense of taxpayers. Several months later the GVK energy conglomerate acquired a majority stake in the Hancock Alpha coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee basin for $US1.26 billion. 336347

This unhealthy alliance of corporate gangsters with state interests has intensified with the emergence of rampant unfettered neoliberalism. The social impact is quite devastating and is evident via increasing psychosocial issues and industrial diseases such as mesothelioma, silicosis, leukaemia and black lung. It also illustrates there are serious ethical concerns when society allows itself to be driven by the market economy. Indeed, a fundamental tenet of work health and safety legislation is to secure the health and safety of people at work and it also binds the Crown. 348354

Despite a quest for moral high ground via superficial philanthropy, it is obvious the extreme wealth, power and influence of the Hancock dynasty is underpinned by a genetic indifference to duty of care and soteriology. Any contrived event like Wittenoom, which may culminate in the agonising deaths of up to 60,000 Australians by 2030, can only be described as criminal negligence. It was even sanctioned by many honoured dignitaries within federal and state liberal governments and subsidised accordingly. This amoral corporate greed, recklessness and indifference is tantamount to androcide or democide. The death toll from asbestos related diseases in Australia will eventually exceed its First World War casualties. Those horrific events at Gallipoli inspired a tradition of annual remembrance but most asbestos victims usually encounter subterfuge or a conspiracy of silence…….When the rich wage war, it’s the poor who die. 355362

Mining and milling operations at Wittenoom officially ceased in December 1966 purely for economic reasons. A media release from Sir Charles Court, a state government minister, was somewhat prophetic…..This is not the end of Wittenoom. It is the beginning of a new phase in its history. Over 2000 asbestos related deaths and catastrophic environmental damage have corroborated his comments. 363366

Nevertheless, numerous Hancock group employees continued working amongst the mine tailings and contaminated gorges until 1994. The organisation pleaded ignorance over the health risks and claimed activities were endorsed by statutory authorities. In December 2006, the state government dissolved Wittenoom’s status as a township and its power supply was disconnected from the grid. It was eventually degazetted, removed from official maps and classified as a contaminated site. 367369

In May 2018 a private members’ bill covering live animal exports was presented by another disgraced former cabinet minister in the Turnbull coalition government. The member assured lower house representatives that emotions had not clouded her judgement but the case for live sheep exports fails on both economic and animal welfare grounds. It was also an industry with an operating model built on animal suffering. Maybe these concerns should be directed towards the resources, manufacturing and construction sectors with an increasing focus on the prevalence of debilitating industrial diseases. This includes disorders such as mesothelioma, black lung and silicosis, which is emerging as the most significant occupational lung disease since asbestosis. 370376

The vituperative recklessness and contumelious irresponsibility displayed by corporate gangsters at Wittenoom has bequeathed a catastrophic legacy of devastation and disease. It was exacerbated by entrenched insouciance from elected dignitaries and sycophantic public serpents afraid to speak the truth to power. Over three million tons of tailings containing up to 5% of blue asbestos are surrounding Wittenoom. Slate coloured slag heaps from the redundant mines obtrude incongruously against red ochre ridges and fluorescent green valleys of the scenic gorge. Its riverbeds and creeks are polluted with blue asbestos from mine tailings, which cascade through tributaries past the condemned township during wet season torrents. Erosion from stream undercurrents feeds asbestos contaminated material into the Fortescue River catchment. It can circulate through gorges, floodplains and pastures towards inhabited environs and potable water supplies. The contaminated dumps are a legacy of reckless and irresponsible mining that began during the 1930s and ended in 1966. Almost 30 years later a state parliamentary inquiry recommended…..The government take instant and determined action to have CSR and the Hancock group of companies remediate the sites and renovate the damage they have caused. Even following remediation it is extremely unlikely the state government will allow permanent residence in the region. 377385

The tailings still remain and the independent report from 2006 provides a comprehensive summary of the public health and environmental risks. It states residents, pastoralists and construction contractors may be at a high risk from exposure to respirable fibres. In the dry season, approximately 100 vehicles use the access roads and almost 40 tourists visit the township and its adjacent gorges daily. During the wet season up to 200 indigenous people participate in ceremonial rituals around sacred sites. Contractors involved in remediation work and geologists and pastoralists also visit for work in the immediate environs. 386388

The privatising profit and socialising loss dichotomy has emerged and the responsibility for restoration is left to the state government. Unlike wealth in trickle-down economics, the cost inevitably cascades onto taxpayers. The state inherited the risk when the companies were unable to afford remediation expenses and decided not to renew their leases. Meanwhile, it continues to procrastinate and is extremely reluctant to take any meaningful action as the environmental and public health risk increases. The remediation and restoration could be funded via the commonwealth Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. It includes provisions to recover assets generated from a crime and benefits derived from an offence or other illegal activities. It is extremely unlikely the Western Australia or federal governments would take such action. Nonetheless, many elected representatives are quite willing to accept beguiling invitations to extravagant overseas weddings and corporate shindigs and rort their expenses. 389392

Mining and other incidental activities at Wittenoom casually disregarded any concerns for the local indigenous community and most aborigines were categorised as untermensch. During a television interview, the despicable Lang Hancock effectively advocated genocide using statutory sterilisation. It is implausible that consideration was recently given to erect a statue in Perth venerating the devastation created by this fecund and uncouth malapert. It is much more civilised to reflect on a verse from an aboriginal poet written in 1971: 393398

At the white man’s school, what are our children taught?

Are they told of the battles our people fought?

Are they told of how our people died?

Are they told why our people cried?

Australia’s true history is never read,

But the black man keeps it in his head.

Killer queen

Following the prolonged legal battles involving miners who succumbed to asbestos related diseases it became evident that many other workers, especially in the manufacturing and use of asbestos containing materials were also at risk. This sector was dominated by James Hardie Industries and during the post war housing construction boom the company became synonymous with building products such as fibreboard and asbestos cement. However, a product liability and public health crisis was looming via an escalating toll in asbestos related diseases. It became increasingly difficult for the company to disregard pertinent questions about its awareness and obligations covering the hazards and associated risks of asbestos exposure. 399403

After the Heys and Barrow case its rival manufacturer, CSR Limited, capitulated to legal and social pressure and offered to accept claims as specific cases emerged. James Hardie ceased manufacturing asbestos containing products in the early 1980s and began sanitising its corporate image. Civil litigation was usually settled behind closed doors with secrecy clauses to protect its reputation. However, an escalating toll of death and disease generated alternative tactics as the magnitude of the risk became evident. It embarked on an extremely aggressive corporate strategy and twisted every which way but loose to safeguard its assets, evade accountability and minimise liability. 404407

During the 1990s under the helm of another sociopath, a brutal American vulture culture evolved, which took no prisoners. The organisational structure was transformed and the company exploited the foreboding principle of limited liability under corporation’s law to establish an impenetrable corporate veil and circumvent its obligations. Acolytes of this concept claim it encourages entrepreneurialism but it is frequently abused by corporate sociopaths to impede creditors and avoid accountability. Between 1937 and 1986 James Hardie manufactured asbestos products via two subsidiaries and as the magnitude of the risk became evident, the assets were transferred to James Hardie Industries NV in the Netherlands. During 2001 ownership was allocated to a freshly sanitised body, the Medical Research and Compensation Foundation. An actuary was appointed to estimate the cost of future claims and the foundation was bequeathed some pocket money amounting to almost $300 million to cover any future liabilities emanating from asbestos litigation. 408411

Despite the patina of soteriology, festering undercurrents of corporate turpitude supported by its inhumane US vulture culture soon emerged. The transfer of company assets to the Netherlands was eventually approved by the New South Wales Supreme Court. However, there was no reciprocal agreement or memorandum of understanding between US, Dutch and Australian governments to recover assets. It would effectively leave many asbestos victims chasing smoke and the federal liberal government under John Howard nonchalantly shrugged its shoulders. The improbity was described by Greg Combet as…….One of the most morally and legally repugnant acts in Australian corporate history. 412414

It transpired that liabilities against the James Hardie group would exceed $2 billion, which left the fund with an enormous deficit. In February 2004, the state government ordered a judicial inquiry to investigate any malfeasance. It found James Hardie was under no legal obligation to provide compensation although it was extremely critical of senior management performance and actuarial studies. However, the company faced increasing sociopolitical pressure from unions, community activists and an indefatigable, Bernie Banton AM. The state labour government appointed Greg Combet to convene a suitable settlement and establish a genuine compensation fund. This required superior negotiating skills, mindful militancy and approval from James Hardie shareholders. After resolving taxation issues with the federal government it was eventually accomplished in February 2007. 415418

No criminal charges were ever laid although numerous senior executives faced civil action under corporations’ legislation in the New South Wales Supreme Court. The chief executive, Peter MacDonald received a $350,000 fine and was disqualified from serving as a board member for 15 years. This was attenuated by a resignation windfall, which included a bountiful $9 million golden parachute. 419423

Justice Ian Gzell reserved some harsh criticism for Meredith Hellicar, the former James Hardie chairperson. During testimony she was found to be a most unsatisfactory witness who feigned shock and displayed unacceptable dogmatism. She received a five-year ban with a $30,000 fine. It was reduced on appeal and the former AMP director, coal industry lobbyist and corporate sociopath was confined to the naughty step…. She keeps Moet et Chandon in her pretty cabinet. Meanwhile on 27th November 2007, Bernie Banton AM a former James Hardie employee, died from peritoneal mesothelioma………Qu’ils mangent de la brioche just like Marie Antoinette. 424433

Here, there and everywhere

The enactment of legislation in Australia back in 2003 prohibits mining, manufacture and use of asbestos in the workplace. However, the risk of exposure remains and it is frequently encountered by tradespeople, renovators and home owners or occupants. It is contributing to another surge of asbestos related diseases with an escalating public health risk and the consequences usually materialise decades later. 434436

A Turner and Newall factory near Leeds in the United Kingdom manufactured asbestos products over many years. Emissions from its ventilation system contaminated over 1000 properties in the nearby Armley Lodge district of the city. At least 300 former employees are believed to have died from asbestos related diseases and the adjacent housing estate has the highest incidence rate of mesothelioma in the United Kingdom. The factory closed in 1959 and the repercussions have been described as a social disaster. 437439

During 1913, the Cape Asbestos Company opened several factories in London, which included a manufacturing plant in Barking to produce an extensive range of asbestos containing products including gas masks. In 1929 concerns were raised about asbestos dust exposure but operations continued until the factory closed in 1968. Employees often worked in casual clothing without respiratory protective equipment and were merely informed to drink a glass of milk to mitigate any respiratory complications. Dust from extraction fans frequently shrouded a primary school adjacent to the factory. 440442

The manufacturing plant was eventually demolished in the late 1960s and the land was purchased by the local council. Several council houses and tenements were built on the contaminated site. The factory employed over 10,000 people and it is difficult to estimate the precise number of employees who suffered asbestos related deaths. However, the incidence rate for mesothelioma fatalities in Barking is amongst the highest in the United Kingdom and asbestos deaths are a pandemic throughout the region. It was described by a local member of parliament as one of the greatest tragedies the community has ever experienced.

Meanwhile, Cape PLC continues operating and…………Aims to provide a workplace where everyone can work safely and healthily and operate in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. It was recently rewarded with several large contracts on oil and gas projects across Australia and has virtual offices in most states. 443447

Both sides now

The asbestos scourge holds no boundaries and the material was used here, there and everywhere. Between the 1960s and 1970s it was pumped into roof cavities to insulate over 1000 properties in the suburbs of Canberra. It was a lucrative venture and encompassed additional homes across the border in New South Wales. The insulating material was initially sold as Asbestosfluf and installed by a local entrepreneur, Dirk Jansen with assistance from family, colleagues and itinerant labourers. The company was colloquially termed Mr Fluffy and the snake oil hyperbole for the wondrous insulating material included phrases such as affordable, safe, endurable and….….Asbestosfluf insulated homes have an added market value. It also claimed the product was CSIRO tested and approved. 448453

The scheme began in 1968 when Dirk Jansen established a company named Asbestosfluf Insulations and purchased a second hand pumping truck. Evidence indicates the material was brown asbestos or amosite originating from EGNEP in South Africa, a subsidiary of the Cape Mining Company in the United Kingdom. The product allegedly arrived in Australia via New Zealand. It was delivered in 45 kg unlined hessian bags bearing a distinctive James Hardie logo but the country of origin was obscured to circumvent the South Africa apartheid trade embargo. It appears coincidental that during the same period two Cape Asbestos manufacturing plants at Barking and Acre Mill in the United Kingdom ceased operating. This may have left a surplus of raw material in leased warehouses costing a significant amount of money. However, it is beyond doubt that Asbestofluff Insulations spent over six years insulating many homes with friable amosite throughout Canberra, Queanbeyan, Bungendore and Yass. It also offered a premium service using crocidolite or blue asbestos. 454460

The business flourished and the company insulated approximately 20 houses each week and it raised some anxiety amongst the Commonwealth Health Department. Senior officers were accompanied by a physicist, Gersh Major to investigate the process and a subsequent report provided several ominous warnings. It claimed there was a serious risk of exposure to asbestos dust and recommended discontinuing the activity. The advice was disregarded and the home insulation scheme continued unabated. However, toxicity of the substance was acknowledged by the health services department with a public warning to installers and an offer of free health checks, which included x-rays. 461463

In 1972 a new company J & H Insulations was established by a family member, Joseph Jansen with business partner John Hetz. The product was rebranded and sanitised using the name Amoswool. It was described as non-irritating and completely harmless. Insulation of homes continued throughout the region until 1979, when the product was removed from the marketplace to align with new building regulations. Dirk Jansen passed away during 2001 and his descendants were reluctant to discuss the venture or provide any further information and requested people to respect their privacy. 464465

In 2015 the Australian Capital Territory government published a list, detailing more than 1000 insulated houses throughout Canberra. An independent report from the New South Wales government used an actuarial proximity model to estimate the number of affected residential properties across 26 of its local government areas. It estimated 511 properties may be at risk. However, additional evidence suggests the magnitude could be much greater. A company called Bowsers Asphalt from Rozelle performed similar activities for almost 13 years and considered expanding into Canberra before the Mr Fluffy venture began. Properties containing loose fill asbestos insulation have been identified at Lithgow in the Blue Mountains and Batemans Bay, many kilometres away from Canberra. 466469

The commonwealth spent almost $100 million in a futile attempt to remediate and restore contaminated properties throughout Canberra. In August 2014 a report from the asbestos response taskforce confirmed an unknown and perhaps unknowable number of residents lived in homes affected by loose fill asbestos insulation. It concluded demolition of the affected properties was the only enduring solution to the risks posed by loose fill asbestos insulation in homes. The commonwealth offered a concessional loan of up to $1 billion for the Australian Capital Territory government to purchase the affected properties under a voluntary buy back scheme. It has encountered some resistance and conflict with owners who have disagreed with property valuations and are exploring alternative legal options. In December 2014 the New South Wales government established a taskforce and development of a make safe assistance package. It supported a voluntary purchase and demolition program across the 26 identified local government areas throughout New South Wales and offered a free sampling and testing scheme………….Rows and floes of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air and feather canyons everywhere, I’ve looked at clouds that way but now they only block the sun and rain and snow on everyone. 470476

Little white lies

Canada is usually regarded as a reformist, progressive and benevolent nation. These traits were often personified by the charismatic Pierre Trudeau and more recently through his son and incumbent prime minister, Justin Trudeau. However, it disguises a dark and sombre ugly secret , which was revealed during a controversial CBC documentary. Most Canadians are unaware of the political chicanery and duplicity involved with its export of chrysotile or white asbestos to developing countries. During the 1970s, revelations about the health risks of asbestos and product liability destroyed the market across the United States, Canada and Europe and the product was banned in most industrialised nations. 477481

Canada exports 95% of its asbestos to countries such as India, Bangladesh and Indonesia and frequently uses burnished propaganda to masquerade the material’s inherent toxicity. Most of the material comes from the Asbestos and Thetford mines in the parochial province of Quebec. Its best customer is India, which receives almost 40 million tonnes of chrysotile each year. Most of it is bound for the state of Gujarat, which offers an endless supply of naïve, vulnerable and cheap labour without any enforcement of safety legislation. 482486

It resurrected an ailing asbestos mining industry in Quebec but evidence suggests a legacy of disease, death and misery is inevitable amongst the impoverished communities across India’s golden corridor. Meanwhile, turgid sludge from sociopathic corporate executives and industry lobbyists supported by servile public serpents spewed like the lava from Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano. A fundamental tenet for managing risk requires controlling problems at the source and the provision of ventilation or respiratory protective equipment at the coal face is merely a superficial nostrum. 487489

Despite scientific evidence the Canadian government remained indifferent. Its Quebec based industry bodies claimed chrysotile was a safe and attractive product. This cunning misrepresentation of scientific information established the foundations for corrupt public policy. However during 2008, a scientist with the Health Canada panel recommended banning the substance. It was considered the only effective solution to prevent a tragic repeat of the asbestos diseases epidemic that emerged throughout the US, Europe and Australia. This involved many corporate behemoths including Johns Manville, Turner and Newall, Cape, CSR and James Hardie. 490495

Achieving an international ban involved critical understanding of the economic, cultural, sociopolitical and historical factors underpinning Canada’s policy, which endorsed the mining, use and export of asbestos. It would require a prolonged campaign of mindful militancy to persuade an entrenched culture that enjoyed traditional support from every political party at provincial and national levels. The industry also received passionate encouragement from the trade union movement in an extremely parochial province with enormous political power. The timing and location for unleashing the campaign was crucial and it was quite evident that it had to be launched and won in Quebec. 496498

In 1997 the two peak asbestos industry bodies transferred their headquarters from France to Montreal and their names were sanitised. Any reference to asbestos was removed and the organisations became known as the Chrysotile Institute and the International Chrysotile Association. The leader for both lobby groups was the most powerful trade union official in the province and former president of the Quebec Federation of Labour. It would be a tough campaign and aggressive battle against an alliance with enormous sociopolitical clout and financial resources. Traditional victim impact and injustice campaigns amongst cohorts of mercenary redneck knuckle draggers would require additional and alternative tactics. This involved gaining control of the scientific message and exposing and challenging the malicious propaganda persistently disseminated by industry lobby groups. 499503

In 2006 Canada opposed the listing of chrysotile as a hazardous substance under the United Nations Rotterdam Convention, which also required prior informed consent protocols to export identified materials or chemicals. At a subsequent meeting in 2008 an activist group issued a bilingual call of conscience to Stephen Harper. The statement claimed the Canadian government deliberately sabotaged the convention and its actions repudiated basic human rights and tarnished the country’s international reputation. 504506

It received significant media coverage and was endorsed by over 100 eminent scientists and health professionals, which included many academics and patriotic Quebec government representatives from Montreal. The Chrysotile Institute had lobbied aggressively but Stephen Harper was left shell shocked and his government remained silent, which extirpated its credibility. It was a significant milestone in the campaign and the activism appealed to scientific integrity, human solidarity and reinforced Canadian values, especially amongst the parochial Québécois. 507509

The next step involved challenging the C$750,000 funding promised by the Canadian government to the Chrysotile Institute that was incongruous with its stance on funding industry lobby groups. A letter from two eminent Quebec health officials, which was endorsed by several other renowned English Canadians, challenged the lobbyist’s propaganda and requested Stephen Harper to withdraw funding. This also received extensive media coverage and the prime minister and the Chrysotile Institute were unable to defend the malfeasance and it significantly transformed public opinion. 510511

The campaign gained momentum and 15 distinguished professionals published an open statement in La Presse, a popular Quebec newspaper with widespread circulation. It challenged the Quebec government to recognise the scientific evidence, protect the health of vulnerable workers in developing countries and stop the mining and exporting of asbestos. The declaration spoke the truth to power and exposed the perfidy. It also won the hearts and minds of the laity and established honour and integrity that no amount of power, greed or money could distort or corrupt. 512513

The activism continued with frequent disclosures of the political chicanery and turpitude amongst elected representatives and industry lobbyists. This included an accusation that the Quebec health minister violated his professional code of ethics by endorsing the use of chrysotile asbestos. The campaign achieved increasing recognition from many other professional bodies and not a single health organisation or reputable scientist supported the asbestos industry. 514515

Genuine leadership emerged amongst the provincial government public health directors, which challenged a C$58 million loan to expand the Jeffrey mine in the Asbestos. A formal letter claimed it would increase asbestos related diseases amongst employees and the general public with significant financial and social implications. This was reinforced via a media release and the letter was published on the Quebec provincial government website. The federal health minister also came under the spotlight and was requested to support the ban on mining asbestos. It was treated somewhat indifferently and the minister disregarded the overwhelming scientific evidence and refused to meet with health professionals. The minister failed to fulfil her duty to protect health, a fundamental tenet in the declaration of human rights and work health and safety legislation. 516518

The campaign soon gained international recognition and scientists from around the world wrote to the Quebec premier, Jean Charest requesting the prohibition of mining and exporting of chrysotile asbestos. During a trade mission to India in 2010, Jean Charest was accompanied by a major exporter and Normand Paulin, a senior executive with the Quebec Occupational Health and Safety Commission. The trio was asked to meet with the victims of asbestos related diseases, union officials and public health activists but Charest refused to participate in the discussion. 519521

Normand Paulin met with several representatives who claimed safe use of chrysotile under the prevailing conditions was practically impossible and it was destroying the lives of workers and their immediate dependants. The event received extensive media coverage, especially back in Canada. It depicted man’s inhumanity to man and delivered an extremely powerful message to the laity. In January 2011 a public opinion poll confirmed 76% of the Québécois opposed government financing for the Jeffrey mine expansion. It became evident that the conservatives in Ottawa and liberals in Quebec were the only political parties supporting the asbestos industry. The wheels were falling off and the federal government ceased to finance and support the Chrysotile Institute, which eventually closed. Several months before the provincial election and in a desperate attempt to gain support from the resources sector, the Charest government provided a C$58 million bung to the Jeffrey mine. This generated intense public outrage and extirpated any remaining skerrick of the liberal party’s credibility. 522529

In September 2012 the Parti Québécois was duly elected. It proceeded to cancel the loan and asbestos mining in Quebec ceased. After ten years in power, the federal neoliberal conservative government under Stephen Harper was defeated in the October 2015 election and Justin Trudeau became prime minister. In December 2016 the Trudeau federal government announced it would pass legislation and ban asbestos by 2018. This would involve extensive consultation to develop and implement effective regulations. 530532

The victory was not just about asbestos. It was a battle that exposed and defeated corrupt science and destroyed the sociopolitical and economic power of vested interests. It also demanded that people’s right to health be placed beyond profit. These issues recur in every battle for social and environmental justice. This can be resolved via determination, solidarity and integrity……Indifference is the essence of inhumanity. 533534

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    2 Replies to “White Lung”

    1. much of the article was known to me but, put together like this paper does, brings home the deceit and evil nature of some of our multi national corporations and wealthy Australians. It is about time that our leaders started doing what was right and not what is the most politically advantageous. I’m glad that Canada has at last ceased mining it but who knows how many people will die because of the greed.

    2. Dear Peter,

      Many thanks.The pharmaceutical and food manufacturing sectors are even more malevolent. Ralph Nader has been waging war against these socially autistic mercenaries for decades.

      Despite the Queensland parliamentary inquiry into black lung the government has merely adopted a philosophy of scientism and generated a tyranny of bureaucracy.

      Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest – Denis Diderot.

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