Highest Mesothelioma Rate in the World: Australia’s Indigenous Population

When we think about exposure to asbestos and the risk of mesothelioma, we might think the most at risk are those who work in the trades: The construction workers, the painters, the ship builders, the auto mechanics. openpitmine

Certainly, those groups see higher rates than others, particularly when they worked in the 50s, 60s and 70s, when asbestos was still commonplace in so many building materials and products. But as a new study has shown, the group with the highest rate of mesothelioma deaths in the world is in West Australia. Specifically, indigenous West Australians have the highest mortality rate for malignant mesothelioma in the world.

Mesothelioma is an aggressive and terminal type of cancer that develops years after exposure to asbestos fibers, breathed into the lungs and scarring the delicate tissue lining of either the lungs or stomach. In most cases, illness and diagnosis occur many years – even decades – after exposure. 

Understanding who is most vulnerable to the disease – and why – is important not only to helping us ascertain future risks, but also in determining the entities that might be liable.

The most recent research was done by scientists at The University of Western Australia, which looked at global rates of the disease. They had suspected at the outset that the continent’s indigenous population had higher than usual rates of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases, but they didn’t walk into it assuming it would be the highest.

What they discovered was that almost 70 percent of the mesothelioma diagnoses handed to the native West Australians could be traced directly to the Wittenoom Gorge mining in the Pilbara. Remember, asbestos is a naturally-occurring substance in our environment, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe. Those involved in transporting the asbestos were mostly Aboriginal. It was well-known that they were given the hard jobs no one else wanted to do. They often carried huge sacks of raw asbestos on their backs many miles to a storage area nearby. The material was then shipped to other areas of the country and even overseas.

It’s estimated some 7,000 native Australians worked that single mine, owned by the Australia Blue Company, from the early 1940s through the mid-1960s.

Hundreds of workers have died of the disease.

Although Australian law certainly varies from that in the U.S., much of it is based on the same English common law that we follow here. Employers in Australia, much like employers in the U.S., owe a duty of care to take reasonable action not to expose workers to illness or injury. Hundreds of workers and their families have filed meosthelioma litigation against the company.

In the U.S., workers generally can’t sue their employer unless it can be shown the employer intended harm to workers or the acts of negligence were so egregious they were almost certain to cause serious injury or death. Few mesothelioma cases have been won this way, though many retired workers have found some reprieve by claiming workers’ compensation benefits from former employers.

Typically, however, these cases involve action against the maker of a dangerous product that contained the material.

Our skilled mesothelioma lawyers in Boston can discuss with you the options that may be available in your case.

If you or a loved one is diagnosed with mesothelioma in Boston, call for a free and confidential appointment at (617) 777-7777.

Additional Resources:

Indigenous West Australians have highest death rate for asbestos-related disease: study, July 6, 2016, By Angus Sargent, ABC.Net.AU

More Blog Entries:

AIG, Travelers Not Liable for Payment of Asbestos Claims, Bankruptcy Court Rules, July 7, 2016, Boston Mesothelioma Lawyer Blog

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