Australia was among the highest consumers of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) in the world, and multiple products still lie hidden in one third of Aussie homes built or renovated before 1987.
November Is National Asbestos Awareness Month and the tragic story of Adam Sager, who was a toddler when his parents sanded the walls of their home, not knowing the health risks, sends an important message to every parent about asbestos.
The son of Julie and Don Sager, Adam was 24 when he was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma from inhaling asbestos fibres. Six months later he lost his battle with the disease.
“We didn’t know the dangers of disturbing asbestos or that the dust our little boy inhaled would one day take his life. As parents we blamed ourselves because it’s our job to protect our children and keep them safe,” said Mrs Sager.
“Our beautiful boy is gone but we hope that by being a part of this ongoing fight, our tragic loss will help increase awareness of the dangers of disturbing asbestos among other parents so they know the importance of protecting themselves and their children from deadly fibres.”
Asbestos Awareness Ambassador renovator Cherie Barber, mum of 11-year-old daughter Milan, issued a similar warning.
“In those days Adam’s parents didn’t know the dangers of sanding asbestos but today we do know the risks and as parents, we each have the responsibility to protect our children from something that has the potential to kill,” she said.
“We know that children are often present when parents and tradespeople are working on home renovations and undertaking maintenance – even playing with materials and sweeping up dust that could contain deadly asbestos.
“Although there’s no known safe level of exposure to asbestos fibres, what we do know is that the greater the exposure, the greater the risk of developing asbestos-related diseases,” Cherie said.
If sealed, in good condition and left undisturbed, asbestos is not considered dangerous. However, when ACMs are disturbed releasing microscopic fibres that can be inhaled, this can cause deadly diseases to develop 20-50 years after exposure including cancers such as malignant mesothelioma.
Each week 13 Australians die of asbestos-related diseases,12 from malignant mesothelioma. Another 13 are diagnosed with this incurable cancer and the average survival time following diagnosis is just 10-12 months.
Knowing what to look for and how to manage asbestos safely is the key to preventing asbestos-related diseases.