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Study Looks at Children and Asbestos

Pat Guth contributes news and insightful content for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance.

Patricia Guth

September 06, 2012

Wittenoom, Australia - Wittenoom, Australia no longer exists. It’s literally been wiped from the map, a decision made by the federal government after the asbestos mining industry destroyed the town and wreaked havoc with the health of its citizens. Now, a new study is taking a close look at the long-term health of children who grew up in this Western Australia mining town, and the findings are appalling.

According to an article in the Herald Sun, the study is the first to truly examine the effect that Wittenoom’s blue asbestos had on the children of miners and others who lived in the town. An asbestos mine operated there from the 1930s until 1966, when it was closed due to lack of profitability and growing concerns about the health effects of crocidolite asbestos on those who worked at the mine and/or lived near it.

The study, conducted by The Western Australian Institute for Medical Research (WAIMR) and recently published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, determined that 2,460 children in Wittenoom had suffered asbestos exposure before age 15. The median age of exposure was three-years-old. By the end of 2007, the report notes that 207 of them had died of a variety of causes, with cancer being high on the list.

Specifically, boys who lived in the town between 1943 and 1966 had significantly higher rates of mesothelioma, leukemia, brain cancer, prostate cancer, and colorectal cancer. Girls who were exposed to the blue asbestos before the age of 15 showed higher rates of mesothelioma, breast cancer, brain cancer, and ovarian cancer.

Overall, breast cancer was the most common cancer among the women, with mesothelioma coming in second. In men, malignant mesothelioma took first place followed by skin cancer, the report shows.

In addition, girls who lived in Wittenoom had a 20 to 47 percent greater risk than the rest of the Western Australian population of dying from any cause. The risk for boys was an alarming 50 to 83 percent higher.

Experts say that the high level of exposure comes from the fact that the asbestos wasn’t only contained in the mine. Tailings from the mine were used throughout the town, confirmed Associate Professor at WAIMR, Alison Reid. It was found on roads, pavements, parking lots, the local racecourse, and school playgrounds.

“They were even used in people's backyards, where, of course, children often played,” said Reid.

“We will continue to follow this group to provide important information on the long-term implications of exposure to asbestos during childhood,” she added.

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