A fit Perth father has died from mesothelioma aged just 45 – and he didn’t even know he’d been exposed to asbestos.
Now, his wife is speaking out in the hope that their story can help save others.
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Emergency doctor Colin Clarke was a doting dad of two.
He was young, fit, and healthy, and he was training for the Rottnest Island swim when he began feeling out of breath.
An X-ray revealed the worst possible news.
“He just looked at me and said, they think it’s cancer,” his wife, Lizz Clarke, told 7NEWS.
“That was when the world folded in.”
There’s no cure for mesothelioma, a tumour of the tissue that can line the lungs, stomach, heart, and other organs.
The family has no idea when or how Colin could have been exposed.
“Probably someone, somewhere, at some point, took a decision to cut a corner, cut a cost not do the right thing,” Lizz said.
“And we have paid the price for that.”
Mesothelioma took three years to claim Colin’s life.
And now his wife has a message for people to be more aware of asbestos and the deadly disease its presence can cause.
Asbestos insulation was commonly used in the building of houses in Australia prior to the 1990s.
Modern-day renovations can dislodge asbestos particles, sending potentially deadly dust into the air.
Tragically, Western Australia has the highest rate of mesothelioma in the world, a legacy of the blue poison dug out of the Pilbara’s red dirt.
Wittenoom is WA’s asbestos ghost town – a former townsite around 1400 km north of Perth that is now a contaminated wasteland.
Mining for blue asbestos was conducted in the region from the 1930s right through until the 1960s.
Many of the people who lived and worked in the area died from either asbestosis or mesothelioma.
Other asbestos exposure sites included New South Wales asbestos mines at Baryulgil and Woodsreef and the State Electricity Commission in Victoria’s La Trobe Valley.
Workers employed in the manufacturing of asbestos sheeting and pipes at James Hardie, Wunderlich and Colonial Sugar Refining Company in all capital cities were subjected to heavy exposure during the production process.
While places like Wittenoom and represent the dangers of the past, there’s a push to focus on the risk asbestos still possesses today.
Asbestos is no longer used in buildings, but any trade or homeowner knocking down or renovating older buildings can still risk being exposed.
“As the building fabric of workplaces and homes containing asbestos products has aged, it has become more dangerous, because the loosened fibers are released into the atmosphere,” the Australian Asbestos Network notes.
“In this way, even schools with asbestos-cement roofs have become potential danger points.
“Demolition workers face exposure as buildings are torn down, and must work under tightly regulated conditions.
“Householders renovating their houses built in the 20th century face risks of which they are often unaware, and against which they do not protect themselves.
“The risk of asbestos-related disease, once thought to be confined to a small number of workplaces, has spread throughout society.
“This elevated risk will remain until all asbestos-containing materials have been removed from the built environment.”
In WA, trades now receive mandatory training about asbestos when they enter the construction industry.
This week in Perth, some of the city’s landmarks are being lit up for those, like Colin Clarke, who couldn’t be saved.
“(It’s to) shine some light on something that had been very dark,” his wife said.
Hopefully, increased awareness will also help to save lives.