Indigenous rate of mesothelioma high
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.