Marc Kendrickx, an Australian geologist and doctoral student, is conducting an Australia-wide study attempting to map previously-unknown areas of the island nation where residents may be at risk of developing mesothelioma. Australia has substantial asbestos deposits, but many of the deposits are not well-mapped because they were too small to be commercially exploited.
There is concern that developers unaware of the presence of asbestos could disturb such relatively small naturally-occurring outcrops of the fibrous mineral, exposing residents to asbestos. Hendrickx believes that there may be dangerous outcroppings in Tamworth and Barraba in New South Wales , as well as in the towns of Port Macquarie, Orange , and Gundagai. His planned study will examine cancer registry data and spot clusters of mesothelioma patients, and correlate the clusters to the locations of asbestos deposits throughout the country.
Hendrickx hopes that the study will reduce the risk of accidental disturbance of asbestos deposits, but notes that it may be too late for some locations, where development has taken place without researching the existence of asbestos deposits, saying “It appears to be fairly hit-and-miss across the country and in circumstances where naturally occurring asbestos has caused problems for construction, for instance, it has really only been the presence of a geologist on staff that’s raised an issue,” so there’s the possibility that some developments went ahead in areas of naturally occurring asbestos without any investigations being done at all.” Unfortunately, the research study may be compromised before it even begins. The Australian federal government has admitted that it may have lost detailed records of more than 1000 cases of asbestos-related disease. The files were compiled in the 1980s for a nationwide survey on mesothelioma, and were sent to storage in 2001. Hendrickx requested the files for his research, as they are the single largest collection of data on the subject, asking that the Office of the Australian Safety and Compensation Council, says they are nowhere to be found. “It is certainly not our policy to discard records such as these,” said OASCC director Julie Hill, writing in the Medical Journal of Australia , but policy or no, the records have disappeared and attempts to locate them in the last year have borne no fruit.