The annual number of new cases of mesothelioma – a cancer for which the only known cause is exposure to asbestos – has increased to a new peak of 660 cases, according to Safe Work Australia.
Annual numbers of new mesothelioma cases decreased between 2003 and 2006, but the latest figures for 2007 show an increase of more than 10 per cent.
The Safe Work Australia report, Mesothelioma in Australia, also found that increased diagnoses in men made up virtually all of new cases.
Mesothelioma has a long latency and the onset of the disease can be as much as 20 to 50 years after asbestos exposure.
The World Health Organisation reported in 2006 that at least 90,000 people worldwide each year die from asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis.
“The dangers to health from asbestos didn’t end when we stopped mining asbestos or started to ban the use of asbestos in the 1980s,” said ACTU president Ged Kearney.
“The dangers didn’t stop when we stopped importing asbestos in 2004. Australia had one of the highest per capita rates of asbestos consumption rates in the world and most of that asbestos is still in place and is deteriorating.”
Kearney said the Federal Government’s Asbestos Management Review, which is currently underway, must recommend the elimination of asbestos from the built environment by 2030 and the establishment of a National Asbestos Authority to oversee prioritised asbestos removal.