This Sunday, 26 September is Mesothelioma Awareness Day, when patients, family members, doctors and the mesothelioma community raise awareness of this rare cancer.
First established in 2004 by Meso Foundation community members, the day aims to raise awareness and help increase funding for research and support of mesothelioma patients and their families. Malignant Mesothelioma (also known as MM) is an aggressive cancer of the lining of the body’s organs, caused primarily by exposure to asbestos fibres and is invariably fatal within 9 to 18 months of diagnosis.
Read about the experience of mesothelioma patient Nurse Leonie Metcalfe
Unitec's Dr Terri-Ann Berry and her team at the Environmental Solutions Research Centre at Unitec have been at the forefront of asbestos research in New Zealand and seek to raise awareness of the dangers of asbestos as well as investigate novel ways to bioremediate asbestos fibres to reduce the landfill burden from contaminated soils.
They have been presenting their research and asbestos awareness to globally (including Australia, USA, Malaysia, Pakistan and India) as well as introducing a compulsory asbestos awareness course to all Trades students at Unitec.
Working with New Zealand’s Demolition and Asbestos Association (NZDAA), they also host Asbestos Awareness events at Unitec to share ideas, research and support those suffering from this illness.
In recognition of the New Zealand sufferers of this aggressive disease, a new support trust is being established for New Zealand Mesothelioma sufferers and their families called the Mesothelioma Support and Asbestos Awareness Trust (MSAA), the first of its kind in NZ, which aims raise awareness as well as to provide advice, support, a communication network for those affected.
Although the use and production of asbestos and asbestos contaminated materials (ACM) has been banned in 67 countries, the risk of exposure still exists from these materials which can still be found within many buildings and homes. ACM, if well maintained and not disturbed, presents little danger to human health. However, when the fibres become airborne (during demolition, renovation or repair), it can cause an array of asbestos related diseases including MM.
Human exposure to asbestos particles occurs through raw fibre handling, installation of products, repairs, renovations and removal of asbestos through to building deterioration, accidental finds and events, such as the 2001 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in New York.
Unfortunately, mesothelioma cases continue to increase in Australia and New Zealand, and currently about 125 million people in the world are exposed to asbestos fibres in the workplace, and several thousand deaths annually can be attributed to exposure to asbestos fibres in homes (WHO, 2020).