World News Roundup: Asbestos Stories Outside the US

In Japan , a recent study by the Environmental Ministry indicates that 40 percent of Japanese, suffering from asbestos-related diseases, do not know where or when they were exposed to asbestos, suggesting that even those not directly working with asbestos are at risk to develop health conditions later in life. 55% of those surveyed knew they had been potentially exposed in the workplace, while 3% knew they could have inhaled asbestos from the clothing of family members who worked with asbestos. Another 2% believed it was possible they entered a building or office that had asbestos-containing materials.

The remaining 40% said they had no idea where their exposure could have come from. Most of those surveyed worked in manufacturing, construction, or commercial jobs. The town of Wittenoom, Australia, is well known on the island nation as an asbestos-contaminated location. Indeed, of the 20,000 people living in this once-thriving asbestos mining town, all but 8 people have moved away or died – with at least 1,000 asbestos-related fatalities in their number. But one die-hard settler, Austrian immigrant Mario Hartmann, has lived in Wittenoom for the last eighteen years – and has found the love of his life in new arrival Gail Malcom. Malcom and Hartmann met in the nearly abandoned main street of Wittenoom in mid-2007. Malcom had come to Wittenoom to provide lodging for the occasional tourist to Australia’s “asbestos city”. Hartmann and Malcom believe the town’s danger is overstated, and that the majority of the asbestos contamination is “safely” contained in mine tailings and soil – an opinion not shared by health authorities, who have offered Hartmann $40,000 for his home on condition that he and Malcom move out of Wittenoom. However, Hartmann isn’t interested – “I guess you could say I’m retired and Gail and I have a life here together.

Why would we leave?” Gail says “The cinema is gone, the school’s gone, even the nuns from the convent left. But I came to Wittenoom, population next to nothing, and I met my man. What are the odds of that? I love it here.” In the United Kingdom, the government is conducting inquiries into restoring compensation for people diagnosed with pleural plaques. Plaques are a thickening and scarring of tissues in and around the lungs, and are strongly associated with conditions such as asbestosis, lung cancer, and malignant mesothelioma. Pleural plaques rarely cause symptoms directly. The House of Lords ruled that pleural plaques would no longer be considered a cause for compensation, reversing 20 years of health policy. An outcry by labor unions and health activists has led to the inquiry into restoring the benefit. In Brazil, shares of construction material manufacturer Eternit fell 35 percent in a single day after the Brazilian Supreme Court upheld an injunction barring the manufacture of asbestos-containing roof tiles and water tanks in Sao Paulo state. The court did not rule on the merits of the law, merely upholding a previous ruling barring the use of asbestos. The Court is expected to hold another hearing to determine whether the law itself should be allowed to take effect.