We’ve all heard the song Blue Sky Mine by Midnight Oil, it is a political piece that reminds us of the dangers of asbestos, asbestos mining and how the mining giants were not protecting the Australian population from the harmful effects of asbestos.
Released in 1980, the song refers to the miners and residents of Wittenoom, and the blue asbestos that was mined there. Today the town is still so contaminated, that it’s been removed from the map, the residents relocated, and all access blocked.
This song highlights how dangerous asbestos can be… But why was it banned in Australia?
Asbestos use in Australia.
Australia had one of the highest rates of asbestos use in the world. Not only was it mined in great quantities in towns like Wittenoom, an estimated 1.5 million tonnes was imported to Australia up until the mid-1980s.
Due to its inherent heat, chemical, water and electricity resistance as well as its strength and flexibility, asbestos was seen as a ‘wonder product’ in the construction industry throughout the post-war housing boom. Asbestos was used in a huge range of building materials from roofing sheets to electrical wiring insulation.
Chances are, if your house was built prior to the 1980s, your house may contain asbestos.
Asbestos health risks.
Today, we know about the numerous health risks associated with asbestos, including asbestos, mesothelioma and lung cancer, but unfortunately for the workers and residents of Wittenoom, it took almost 15 years for the first lung cancer cases to be diagnosed and 20 years for the first case of mesothelioma, tumours in the lungs that can only be caused by asbestos, to appear.
By the 70s, the link between asbestos and lung-related diseases was clear and in 1970, unions commenced action to ban the use of asbestos.
In the 1980s Australia phased out asbestos.
With the dangers of asbestos now public knowledge, the number of asbestos-related diseases climbing plus the increase in legal action against asbestos mining and production companies in Australia, the construction industry started to move away from the use of asbestos-containing materials and developed alternatives.
In 2003 asbestos was banned in Australia.
Though asbestos was gradually being phased out from the 1980s onwards, it wasn’t until 31 December 2003 that asbestos was officially banned by the Australian government.
From 2003, the manufacturing, importing, exporting, storing, supplying, use or re-use of asbestos or asbestos-containing materials became illegal, though by this time much of the damage was done with an estimated 2,000+ deaths amongst the 7,000 Wittenoom workers and around one in every three homes in Australia containing asbestos products.
So, the next time you hear Midnight Oil singing Blue Sky Mine on the radio, think of the residents, miners and families of Wittenoom, the town and mine that inspired the song and the eventual ban of asbestos in Australia – and remember the dangers of disturbing asbestos.
If you think your home may be the one in three houses that still contain asbestos, call in professional asbestos experts like Asbestos Eliminator, who are licensed and legally permitted to safely remove and dispose of asbestos in Australia. Contact us for a free quote.