Seven Hills, Queensland – In another of a growing number of cases of secondhand asbestos exposure, a woman who contracted mesothelioma from washing her husband’s work clothes is suing the State Government and building products manufacturer James Hardie.
The woman, whose first name is Joan and who wishes that her surname be withheld, has filed civil claim documents in the Australian Supreme Court. She is seeking $406,500 in compensation for having developed the asbestos cancer mesothelioma as a result of her husband’s employment at the Bulimba power station from 1961 to 1984. Asbestos, a substance which was once widely used for insulation and building purposes, but which has since been established as a carcinogen, can be transported as a fine particulate dust on a worker’s clothing, hair and shoes.
Joan said that she was in the habit of giving her husband a hug when he came home from work, and also of shaking out his overalls before laundering them. She likely inhaled the asbestos dust during these activities, and the microscopic fibers in that dust then settled into her lungs and the lining of the chest cavity known as the mesothelium. Mesothelioma is a rare cancer, but a severe one. It may remain latent within the body for decades, or even 50 years, before it manifests itself as serious enough symptoms to require medical attention. Nevertheless, it has usually developed by this time to end stages, and may have spread throughout the body. There is little that can be done to effectively treat mesothelioma, especially at these late stages, and the average life expectancy for a mesothelioma patient is 18 months after diagnosis. Joan, 83, is seeking damages from the State Government, for failing to provide facilities to clean her husband’s clothes on site, and for failing to warn employees of the potential risks of inhaling asbestos fibers. She is also seeking damages from the James Hardie Company, on similar grounds of continuing to manufacture and distribute asbestos-containing materials despite the known risks. Joan’s husband Roy, a former fitter and welder, has not been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease.