It may be WA's premier place of higher learning but the University of WA has not escaped the legacy of Australia's soured love affair with asbestos.
In an ironic twist, the institution that now helps fund research into deadly asbestos-related diseases has had to pay out thousands of dollars in compensation claims over the past decade.
The UWA cases are among the many filed at the Asbestos Diseases Society headquarters in Perth, but experts warn even more will come, given Australia's dubious honour of having the highest per capita use of asbestos in the 1950s.
Society president Robert Vojakovic said more cases were emerging from other institutions where people were unwittingly exposed to asbestos. UWA was no orphan when it came to buildings and workplaces that used asbestos before it was phased out in the 1980s.
Mr Vojakovic reserved his strongest criticism for building products maker James Hardie and the Wittenoom mines that have so far claimed the lives of more than 2000 workers and family members.
"We know low exposure has a much longer incubation and although everyone used asbestos they were never given the right advice by James Hardie," he said.
Mr Vojakovic said the death toll was far from over, with 270 deaths last year and more than 1000 Australians living with asbestos-related disease.
"We have clients who were electricians or library staff at universities, because everyone was guilty of having asbestos," he said.
"Some cases have settled but I haven't met anyone who wouldn't give all the money back not to have mesothelioma."
UWA research published in the Medical Journal of Australia last year warned that though asbestos use had been banned since 2003, the number of cases of mesothelioma from direct occupational exposure to asbestos was not expected to peak until 2020.
Occupational exposure remains the main cause of the disease but home renovation exposure had accounted for about 13 per cent of all cases over the past five years.
National Centre for Asbestos Related Diseases research director Bruce Robinson said it was often hard to pinpoint the source of disease if there had been several points of exposure.While he was not aware of the claims at UWA, such cases would not be surprising if people had worked in places that had asbestos and had been renovated.
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