A Sydney man is claiming that his mother’s mesothelioma – and consequently, her death – was caused by an asbestos driveway which was installed at their home in the 1950s. John Boyle, whose father worked at the James Hardie factory, says that his mother would also have been exposed to asbestos simply because her husband would have brought the microscopic fibers home on his clothing.
Malignant mesothelioma, an extremely rare form of asbestos cancer, is thought to be caused almost exclusively by asbestos exposure. It affects the outer lining of the lungs, called the mesothelium, and can take up to 50 years to develop and become symptomatic – by which time it has generally progressed to an advanced stage. Although mesothelioma can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation – or some combination thereof – it is considered incurable. Most people who have mesothelioma diagnosis, die within eighteen months.
In a new book called Killer Company, Australian journalist Matt Peacock claims that the building materials company encouraged its employees to take home asbestos waste and use it for driveways, garden paths, garage floors, and other uses. A former engineer with James Hardie, who is quoted in the book, says that thousands of driveways would have been built using leftover asbestos material, as it could be used as a replacement for cement.
According to Peacock, James Hardie attempted to keep the driveways – and their dangers – a secret, in order to minimize their legal liability. The company, which has already faced controversy and pressure stemming from its widespread use of asbestos in the mid-twentieth century, and its lack of full disclosure about its hazards, is concerned that litigation will extend beyond wrongful death and require them to clean up the dangerous materials that still exist.
The company has established an asbestos-diseases fund, but is having trouble contributing to that fund. James Hardie has faced a wave of lawsuits in recent years.