Asbestos victim Serafina Salucci has been living with mesothelioma for nine years. Photo: Elesa Kurtz
Serafina Salucci was just seven when she helped her dad build a garage in their Sydney backyard using the common building material of bonded asbestos sheeting.
But in 2007, at the age of 37, a persistent cough sent her to the doctors where a scan of her lung confirmed the deadly cancer mesothelioma.
Given her lack of exposure to any other form of asbestos, the most likely explanation is a tiny fibre entered her young lung during the backyard renovation, where it lay dormant for 30 years.
But Ms Salucci considers herself one of the lucky ones.
The average time between diagnosis of mesothelioma and death is just two years. She has survived nine. And she has watched her four children – the youngest was three when she was diagnosed – reach milestones she never thought possible.
With one lung removed, too many surgeries to list, and bouts of chemotherapy and radiation therapy behind her, Ms Salucci lives as full a life as she can between her six-monthly scans.
She went to Federal Parliament to plead for funding for the national effort against Australia’s asbestos legacy.
Ms Salucci was joined by asbestos advocates, legal and union representatives from across Australia – all of whom have banded together to call on the Turnbull Government to approve $3 million in funding for the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency.
Read on via Asbestos victim helps lobby for funding
Guest reporter Don Burke joins A Current Affair to share an issue close to his heart.
Scientists at the Asbestos Disease Research Institute have identified how to manipulate the gene that controls the growth of tumours. Ten-thousand Australians have already died from mesothelioma – one of the cancers caused by asbestos exposure.
A further 25,000 are believed to have inhaled asbestos fibres and will develop mesothelioma, which doesn’t appear anywhere until between 10 and 50 years after exposure. Asbestos-related cancers have already killed 10,000 Australians (Source: A Current Affair)
But ADRI researchers have essentially isolated the gene which controls the growth of mesothelioma tumours, allowing them to effectively stop their growth.
“I think we’ve been working on this for a number of years now and we always knew there was the potential here to do something with these small gene regulators, but it was all a matter of getting all the pieces in the puzzle so that we could take it forward,” scientist Glen Reid, who is in charge of the lab work, told A Current Affair.
“We started out with a very small idea and it turned out to be something that was useful in a patient in real life. I think that’s quite amazing.
“Brad Sermon contracted mesothelioma after working as a plumber for 33 years. “As an apprentice, we did a lot of renovation work on fibro houses,” Mr Sermon told A Current Affair.”I was cutting the fibro sheets with a grinder.
We also just smashed the fibro, you know, from the walls, so there was a lot of dust then, of course.””We did wear a mask. However, that was just because the dust was a nuisance, not because we knew that it was a health risk”.
Former plumber Brad Sermon is one of the mesothelioma sufferers to have had a positive reaction to immunotherapy (Source: A Current Affair).
He has been part of the trial and received weekly intravenous immunotherapy treatment and responded positively for seven months, before the mutating tumour fought back.”I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the trial. I’m quite sure of that,” Mr Sermon told A Current Affair.
Serafina Salucci is another long-time mesothelioma sufferer, having undergone multiple treatments over the past 10 years. “I was 37 when I was diagnosed, which means I pretty much could have been exposed, fatally exposed, any time from the time I was a child,” Ms Salucci said.
“When I was about seven, Dad built a garage in the backyard made of fibro and my brother’s and I played with it in the backyard… That’s where they think I probably contracted it.
“Serafina Salucci has been suffering from mesothelioma for 10 years (Source: A Current Affair)
Ms Salucci is currently undergoing immunotherapy to increase her body’s natural defences against the cancer.
Crosses at the memorial have grown from about eight in 2002 to 284 today. (ABC News: Angelique Donnellan)
by Ann Donnellan
Terry Miller grew up in the country not far from the River Murray and used to be a good swimmer.
Now he struggles for breath and needs oxygen 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, making swimming and other simple pleasures impossible. The cause of this was exposures to the deadly building material, asbestos.
“It’s stuffed my life,” Mr Miller said. “I used the be able to mow the lawn. I can’t do that anymore.”I have trouble making beds and things like that.
“[It’s] stupid little things, but they’re frustrating.”Mr Miller was diagnosed with asbestosis in the early 1980s after having worked at the James Hardie factory at Elizabeth in Adelaide’s northern suburbs for 21 years.
Over the 30 years since, he has watched many former colleagues and friends die from insidious lung diseases caused by asbestos.
As Asbestos Victims Association South Australia branch president, he oversees a memorial day held for victims annually at Pitman Park in Salisbury
Photo: SA Senator Penny Wong [Left] was among those joining Terry Miller [Right] at this year’s memorial. (ABC News: Angelique Donnellan)
It’s hard to think of anything more reckless than adding a deadly carcinogen to a product that already causes cancer—and then bragging about the health benefits.
Yet that’s precisely what Lorillard Tobacco did 60 years ago when it introduced Kent cigarettes, whose patented “Micronite” filter contained a particularly virulent form of asbestos.
Smokers puffed their way through 13 billion Kents between March 1952 and May 1956, when Lorillard changed the filter design.
Six decades later, the legal fallout continues a Florida jury has awarded more than $3.5 million in damages to a former Kent smoker stricken with mesothelioma, an extremely rare and deadly asbestos-related cancer that typically shows up decades after the initial exposures.
Lorillard and Hollingsworth & Vose, the company that supplied the asbestos filter material, face numerous claims from mesothelioma sufferers, both factory workers who produced the cigarettes or filter material and former smokers who say they inhaled the microscopic fibers. (The companies insist that hardly any fibres escaped.)
“Micronite” one ad boasted, is “a pure, dust-free, completely harmless material that is so safe, so effective, it actually is used to help filter the air in operating rooms.”
Kent was Lorillard’s response to the health scare of the early 1950s, when the link between smoking and lung cancer began drawing wide attention. Tobacco companies scurried to roll out filters to calm jittery smokers and keep them from quitting in droves.
The health benefits would prove illusory, but the switch to filters averted the potential loss of millions of customers. “The industry’s own researchers admitted that filters did nothing to make cigarettes safer,” notes Robert Proctor, a Stanford University historian whose 2012 book, Golden Holocaust, covers Big Tobacco’s tactics in painstaking detail.
“Philip Morris scientists in 1963 admitted that ‘the illusion of filtration’ was as important as ‘the fact of filtration.”
Asbestos has been found in equipment sourced from China for Port Pirie’s Nyrstar $563-million smelter redevelopment.
SafeWork SA is investigating breaches of work health and safety laws and how the importation was allowed to occur. The watchdog found the friable asbestos fibres in contaminated plant equipment imported by China over the past year.
Imports of asbestos have been banned in Australia for more than a decade. Australian Workers Union (AWU) State secretary Peter Lamps said the eight contaminated heat exchanger tubes, which were each about the size of a bus, were meant to dissipate heat from the production process.
“We understand it was the keen eye of workers that identified the material,” he said.