In­dige­nous rate of mesothe­lioma high

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WA’s in­dige­nous pop­u­la­tion has the high­est rate of mesothe­lioma deaths in the world, with more than two-thirds of cases caused by as­bestos min­ing in Wit­tenoom, re­searchers say.

Mesothe­lioma is one of the most ag­gres­sive and deadly types of can­cer, killing peo­ple within months of di­ag­no­sis by at­tack­ing the lin­ing of the lungs or ab­domen.

A Univer­sity of Western Aus­tralia study found 67 per cent of mesothe­lioma cases in WA’s Abo­rig­i­nal pop­u­la­tion were a re­sult of the min­ing of as­bestos in the Pil­bara town, com­pared with fewer than 25 per cent of cases in non-Abo­rig­i­nals.

The dis­par­ity is be­cause the in­dige­nous pop­u­la­tion was mostly ex­posed to cro­ci­do­lite, known as blue as­bestos, and the most po­tent form, UWA epi­demi­ol­o­gist Peter Franklin said.

“Many of the Abo­rig­i­nal cases worked in the dusty, lower-paid job of load­ing raw cro­ci­do­lite for trans­port to the ports, more than 300km from the mine,” he said.

“So as a pro­por­tion, Wit­tenoom af­fected them much more than it did non-Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple.” The num­ber of cases rel­a­tive to the pop­u­la­tion size was much higher for Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple, Dr Franklin said.

“It puts them at the high­est rate world­wide,” he said. The UWA team com­pared all cases of the as­bestos-re­lated can­cer recorded in the WA Mesothe­lioma Reg­is­ter from 1960 to the end of 2013.

Nearly 7000 peo­ple, mostly men, mined blue as­bestos from Wit­tenoom Gorge from the 1930s to 1966.

More than 300 for­mer work­ers and nearly 100 for­mer residents of the town had died from ma­lig­nant mesothe­lioma, Dr Franklin said.

He said the num­ber could be even higher be­cause peo­ple in re­mote ar­eas may not have sought med­i­cal help.

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