The West

Asbestos illness leaves victim baffled
John McDonald. Picture: Steve Ferrier/The West Australian

A man who has the deadly asbestos-related disease mesothelioma fears he may have contracted it when he was a student at a school in Wagin more than 30 years ago.

Diagnosed in July last year, Ballidu resident John McDonald, 49, is appealing for information from anyone who was a student or teacher at Wagin junior high school in the 1970s, when he believes the school used asbestos in an extension.

Slater and Gordon lawyer Tricia Wong said Mr McDonald was considering seeking compensation from building products manufacturer James Hardie and from the Education Department.

It was a race against time and he would need help from others who were at the same school to be able to mount a case for compensation.

She said there were public records that showed James Hardie building products were used in construction projects at the Wagin school in the 1970s.

Ms Wong said an added concern was that other students and teachers may also have been exposed at the school.

Mr McDonald, who spent more than 20 years working as a chef and nearly a decade as a farm worker, cannot recall any other asbestos exposure in his employment history.

"When someone tells you that you have months to live it's quite hard to believe," he said.

"I was quite numb when I was first confronted and then I found out there's no cure. That was quite devastating."

Ms Wong said lawyers were seeing more people with asbestos- related diseases who were initially unsure where they had been exposed to the deadly dust.

An Education Department spokeswoman said it settled a claim last year for a teacher generally exposed to asbestos in Wittenoom in the 1940s, but it did not have any other active claims.

She said there may have been historic claims relating to industrial disease before RiskCover was established in 1997 but no central record had been kept of those claims.

All asbestos roofs in WA public schools were replaced by 2001.

The West Australian

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