Asbestos Insulation Linked to Increase in Australian Mesothelioma Cases

Illustration of mesothelioma research

The Australian National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the Australian National University in Canberra recently performed a study on malignant mesothelioma cases in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). The ACT has seen an increase in these cases and results show it might be linked to the use of asbestos insulation.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Australia has the world’s highest per capita rate of malignant mesothelioma. The West Cape of Australia is among the places with the highest rates of incidence.

However, there’s been a sharp increase in the mesothelioma rate in the ACT, and the study showed there might be a link between the quick rise and the use of asbestos insulation.

The study sought to compare the ACT’s rates with those elsewhere in the country. Data from various cancer registries were used to identify trends and results.

The lead study author Rosemary Korda noted, “Between 1994 and 2011, age- and sex-adjusted mesothelioma rates in the ACT increased over time, on average by 12% per three-year period.”

Compared with the rest of Australia, rates in the ACT were lower on average, but increased at a higher rate between 1994 and 2011, with most of the increase from 2009 to 2011.

Many homes in the ACT were built with loose-fill asbestos insulation, so domestic exposure is a major concern. In October 2014, an in-principle $1 billion deal was struck to finance the purchase and demolition of 1,021 Canberra homes that were considered unsafe to live in due to asbestos.

These homes were called “Mr. Fluffy” homes as they were filled with the deadly loose-fill asbestos insulation. Over 1,000 homes were affected from the late 60s into the late 70s when the company went under.

This decision was based on tests in many of the homes that found unsafe levels of asbestos in living areas, children’s bedding, toys, and clothes. “The [Asbestos Response] Taskforce made a decision to act on these cases as soon as possible in the best interests of those residents,” said a taskforce spokesperson.

When disturbed or deteriorated, asbestos fibers can become airborne and inhaled through the lungs. According to the Public Health Research & Practice’s abstract of the study, inhalation of asbestos fibers is the predominant cause of malignant mesothelioma.

Asbestos exposure situations like this may not lead to a disease diagnosis for years to come. Mesothelioma cancer can take decades to be found. Imaging scans and biopsies should be completed to confirm its presence and determine the level and severity.