The study published in the September issue of the Medical Journal of Australia has found a sharp increase in the number of malignant mesothelioma cases in Western Australia over the past decade as a result of home renovation/do-it-yourself (DIY) activities involving building products containing asbestos.
The domestic exposures are being described as part of the ‘third wave' of asbestos-related diseases, the first being in miners, millers and transport workers, and the second in workers who used asbestos products.
Although occupational exposures remain the main cause of mesothelioma, in the last five years home renovation/DIY exposures accounted for about 13 per cent of all cases.
Home renovation activities that lead to asbestos exposure included construction using asbestos cement sheets, particularly if sawing or drilling the sheets, and the removal or demolition of these sheets. In some cases, bystanders were also exposed.
Lead author Nola Olsen said while the exposures occurred before asbestos-containing products were banned there is still a concern due to the large number of homes and buildings that still contain these products.
"Asbestos-containing products such as asbestos cement sheets are still found in many homes, particularly older homes and fences. A recent survey by our colleagues at Curtin University found that many people did not take adequate precaution when dealing with these products. They also found that people, even tradespeople, do not think they can easily identify asbestos-containing products. Our study shows that exposures in the home, at a time when people were less aware of the health issues and these asbestos products were still legally available, have unfortunately had dire consequences for some," Olsen said.
Due to the widespread distribution of asbestos-containing products in Australian homes and the amount of home renovation/DIY work that has happened in the past, the researchers believe it is likely that the number of mesothelioma cases attributed to these exposures will increase.
"We have very little understanding of the number of people who have been ‘exposed' during home renovation so it is very difficult to estimate how many more cases we expect to see," Olsen said.
"It is important to remember that this disease is still very uncommon and if you have been exposed to asbestos in the home the risk of mesothelioma remains very low. However, the study highlights the importance of being extremely careful and following the relevant guidelines if you are renovating or doing any work that involves asbestos-containing products."
The Occupational Respiratory Epidemiology research group continues to monitor the incidence of mesothelioma in WA via the WA Mesothelioma Registry. It will also continue to investigate and report on other asbestos-related diseases that occur as a result of occupational and environmental exposures.