Indigenous Community of Baryulgil Braces for Second Wave Asbestos-Related Illness

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The Indigenous community of Baryulgil is facing a new wave of asbestos-related illness after the first mesothelioma diagnosis of a miner’s child.

Ffloyd Laurie, 54, was diagnosed with mesothelioma earlier this year, developing the cancer after playing in the tailings from James Hardie’s mine at Baryulgil, in northern New South Wales, as a child.

The disease is almost always fatal within a year of diagnosis.

Mr Laurie said he planned to spend his final moments living life to the fullest.

“All I’m really worried about is my wife and my family,” he said.

Two generations hit by disease

Mr Laurie’s mother Lillian Williams lost her husband, Norrie Williams, to suspected asbestos-related illness, and now she is also sick.

She said her own health began to fail when she found out about her son’s diagnosis.

“I’m suffering with chest trouble, I’m suffering with everything,” Ms Williams said.

“I was a healthy girl, I was a runner in my days. All in my [doctor’s] report, it says ‘asbestos-related’ right through.

“I can’t shake this, what I’ve got in my chest, but I’ve got a [oxygen] mask to help.”

Ms Williams, a Yaegl elder, left Baryulgil shortly after the local James Hardie white asbestos mine closed down in 1976.

Her husband died in 2010.

“He just got sicker and sicker,” Ms Williams said.

“All of his workmates were the same, with the same symptoms. The cemetery out at Baryulgil is full of young men who worked at the mine. Some of them didn’t reach 50.”
Ms Williams took a $50,000 compensation payout after her husband’s death, but many of the Baryulgil miners’ medical reports blamed their illnesses on smoking and alcohol.

However, Ms Williams’s son is not a drinker or smoker.

Despite never working in the mine, Ms Williams said her son’s diagnosis and her own ill-health had not come as a surprise.

“It [the asbestos] used to come all over like a cloud. When you’d look up in the sky it was all glittery,” she said.

“It’s always going to be in your mind that it’s going to come at you, it’s going to hit you. There’s no escape.”

Fears Reignited After Diagnosis

Mr Laurie’s diagnosis has reignited fear in other Baryulgil residents who lived among the asbestos.

Bulgarr Ngaru Medical Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Scott Monaghan grew up playing in mounds of asbestos at Baryulgil Public School in the 1970s.

“To have Ffloyd diagnosed, as soon as that happened, you go down and get a CT scan,” he said.

Mr Monaghan’s results came back clear, but he said asbestos-related illness was always in the back of his mind.

“For most people up here it’s a fact of life, and you hope it’s not going to have any long-term effects,” Mr Monaghan said.

“The latency period is between 20 and 40 years, so most people would hope that it’s at the back end of 40 years.”

Fight for Compensation

Mr Laurie’s lawyer has started proceedings against the NSW Education Department because he was exposed to asbestos at school.

James Hardie can only be sued in relation to the Baryulgil mine as a ‘defendant of last resort’, because of a special clause in an agreement the company struck with the NSW Government in 2005.

Mr Monaghan suspects the case will be the first of many complicated lawsuits.

“For the community, I think if there’s an opportunity for compensation it should be provided,” he said.

“There’s Ffloyd and potentially hundreds of other people in that position that could be left high and dry.”

Source: ABC News

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