Asbestos Awareness Week: How home renovations led to father’s cancer diagnosis
When Mathew Werfel was first diagnosed with mesothelioma in August 2017, he was shocked and “went through every single gamut of emotion” after being told why.
The father of three, 45, was exposed to asbestos fibres between the 1990s and early 2000s when he worked for a contractor, repairing fences at Housing Trust homes, as well as renovating properties.
He unaware they contained the dangerous material.
Sadly, there is no cure for mesothelioma, which kills within one to three years on average.
It is a form of cancer in the mesothelium, which is the protective lining on the inside of body cavities and the outside of internal organs.
“I started to think about my family, my wife and children, and what I would miss out on,” Mr Werfel said.
“The weeks leading up to my CT scans (done every six months) are always a worry.
“You don’t sleep at night thinking of all of the reasons you need to live.”
The resident from Adelaide’s north, who first discovered a lump in his leg, gave a strong warning for renovators to “beware”.
He advised others to check with professionals before doing any renovation works on homes built before the 1990s.
“Even one exposure to asbestos can seriously harm your health.
“These TV shows make it look glamorous to knock down walls and show everybody happy and cheery, (but it) could in fact be a death sentence if you chose to undertake work without first checking.
“There is a terrible statistic that up to 4000 people die each year from an asbestos-related disease, which is two times more than Australia's road toll but you wouldn't know it because there is hardly any information in the public.”
Mr Werfel was previously awarded a $3.1m compensation payout from former asbestos manufacturer James Hardie.
However, a South Australian Supreme Court decision reduced that compensation to $2.2 million in December last year.
Mr Werfel opened up about his cancer for Asbestos Awareness Week, which began today.
New data commissioned by the Asbestos Safety Eradication Agency has revealed there was a surge in DIY home improvements during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It found that 38 per cent of participants worked on a risky property that was built between 1940 and 1990, which are the decades of greatest concern.
About 28 per cent admitted to finding asbestos and illegally disposing of it, mostly by putting it in their household bin or a neighbour’s.
Asbestos Safety Eradication Agency chief Justine Ross said the increase in home improvements sparked fears of a rise in asbestos exposure, which should be treated with the same level of caution as electricity.
She said people who believed asbestos-related diseases were a thing of the past were mistaken.
“Australia has huge amounts of legacy asbestos in the built environment, all of which is reaching the end of its product life,” she said.
“While there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos fibres, with the right knowledge and tools, we can safely manage asbestos, and avoid exposure to its deadly fibres to prevent a new wave of suffering.
“People working on homes built before 1990 can stay safe if they know where asbestos is, if they don’t disturb or damage it, and if they seek professional help to locate, manage or remove it.”
About 700 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in Australia each year.
Originally published as Asbestos Awareness Week: How home renovations led to father’s cancer diagnosis
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