One Australian city lit up its skies with blue lights last week to bring awareness to an issue “that has plagued the country for decades”.
Over several days, numerous Perth landmarks, including the Matagarup Bridge and the Graham Farmer Freeway Tunnel, beamed bright blue lights to highlight National Asbestos Awareness Week.
The event was orchestrated in partnership with Reflections, a not for profit group that works to increase awareness about the ongoing risks of asbestos. They also provide support for Aussies suffering from asbestos-related illnesses.
Asbestos is a highly toxic material that was used in the construction of more than one million homes and businesses across the country before it was completely banned on 2003.
Its microscopic fibres, which have no taste or smell, cause various cancers, including mesothelioma, for which there is no cure. Mesothelioma is cancer of the thin layer of tissue that covers internal organs and is only known to be caused by asbestos exposure.
On average, mesothelioma is diagnosed 30 years after the initial exposure.
Jo Morris, who formed Reflections with her dad, Barry Knowles, told Yahoo News Australia she worked to light up Perth’s sky to honour those who have lost their lives and remind people that “there is no safe level of asbestos exposure” and it is still an ongoing issue.
Mr Knowles, who died from mesothelioma in 2016, was a carpenter who swept asbestos off the floor when he was training, before the health affects were known.
Ms Morris said her dad was a “classic” victim of the second wave of asbestos deaths, with the first being miners.
However, she warned the country is now experiencing its third wave.
“It is not a thing of the past,” Ms Morris said.
‘We have to live with it’
The majority of sufferers of the third wave are the next generation of tradies and home renovators, Ms Morris said, adding that a lot of people who are supported by Reflections have had non-occupational exposure to asbestos.
With one in every three Australian homes on average still containing asbestos, she said she is concerned about the health of people who renovated their properties during the Covid lockdowns.
She encourages people to have their homes inspected for asbestos if they are concerned and not to “drill or cut” into anything until they know.
“It’s just not worth the risk,” Ms Morris said.
“We have to live with it but we need to generate awareness so people can live with it safely.”
Dad, 45, dies from mesothelioma
Lizz Clarke, a nurse who lives in Perth, lost her husband, Colin Clarke, 45, to mesothelioma in June last year.
It is not known exactly how Colin, a dad of two and emergency doctor, was exposed to asbestos, his wife told Yahoo News Australia.
“We know Colin's exposure was likely the result of someone, somewhere, making a decision one day not to do the right thing, to cut costs or save time,” she said.
“It's unlikely that his exposure was occupational or from DIY.”
Ms Clarke said her husband was well liked by his colleagues and patients and was “most importantly, a fab dad”.
“He taught the kids to snorkel, swim, ride bikes and always took time to explain (usually in great detail) the answer to the kids questions,” she said.
“He leaves behind me and two kids with a legacy of kindness and moral courage to do the right thing.”
Ms Morris is now working for Reflections as the Support Network Coordinator.
“I have chosen to work with Reflections to honour Colin and help those affected by this hideous disease in navigating the health and community support systems,” she said.
“Most importantly, we bring hope to those affected, as they learn to live with dying.
“Finding the light, poking holes in the darkness, seeking joy in every day.”
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