Chemcare’s team met with Gary, a victim of mesothelioma - a terminal lung cancer caused by inhalation of asbestos fibres. Here he recounts working with asbestos when he was a builder a few decades ago. Gary says ‘It’s always the other fella, this time, I’m the other fella”.

Asbestos related diseases currently take the lives of over 170 Kiwis every year.


Mesothelioma is one of the most significant dangers of prolonged asbestos exposure. If you’ve spent a lot of time on a property that contains damaged or untreated asbestos, you could be at risk of developing Mesothelioma in later life.

The occupational nature of this disease makes mesothelioma the most preventable form of cancer. While deaths in New Zealand aren’t as common as from other forms of cancer, we still need to do more to spread awareness about the dangers of asbestos exposure and the respiratory issues it causes.

That’s where Mesothelioma Awareness Day comes in.

A day devoted to spreading awareness about Mesothelioma is a non-event here, and Kiwis deserve better. Here’s a guide to what Mesothelioma Awareness Day is, what it could be and how you can help to spread awareness about the disease.


What is mesothelioma?

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Mesothelioma is a cancer that affects the membrane coating your lungs. Once this membrane breaks down, your lungs become affected by spreading cancer cells. This spread is called metastasis, and normally starts from one centralised location on the outer lining of your lung in early stages to covering your chest in later stages of the disease.


Early stages of mesothelioma are treatable with surgery and chemotherapy, with survival and recovery rates are good. However, diagnosis in the later stages of the disease often means the condition is terminal. Pleural Mesothelioma, if diagnosed, often means an average 10-12 months lifespan according to the US Cancer Society - a devastating figure for an otherwise preventable condition.

Read more Asbestos is nasty, but do you know why? 

How is mesothelioma caused?

Mesothelioma spreads as a result of exposure to damaged or untreated asbestos. A common building material in New Zealand for many years, it was banned in the late 1980s once the full extent of asbestos’ danger to health was exposed. This was supplanted by a total ban on all products that contain asbestos from entering New Zealand in 2016.


Once the material breaks down, either from wear-and-tear or damage, the microfibres enter the air and can be inhaled. From there, the materials irritates and kills the cells in your lungs, with damage often occurring over many years and no obvious symptoms presenting until the disease has begun to spread. This means that, despite the ban on asbestos as a construction material nearing its 30th year in national legislation, asbestos that hasn’t been removed or treated by professionals still presents a threat to New Zealanders nationwide.

Worse still, it’s likely still present in many homes, businesses and public places today.


How prominent is the disease in New Zealand?

The New Zealand Herald shows nearly 1,700 Kiwis died from mesothelioma between 1954 and 2011, with this number thought to be lower than the reality. It’s a disease that still claims around 170 lives per year in New Zealand, according to the same Herald report, showing the full extent of issues faced by New Zealanders nationwide.


That’s why it’s so baffling that there is so little made of the disease here. Yes, it’s less common and fatal than other forms of cancer such as skin and breast cancer, but it’s also one of the most easily avoidable. If you get your home checked for asbestos by professionals and ensure any material present is safe, you’ll greatly reduce your risk of developing the disease.


Similarly, if Kiwis countrywide did a little more to check for and reduce the risk of asbestos exposure in homes and business, we could drop those figures further. And the best way to start this process is by improving awareness on the issue.


What is Mesothelioma Awareness Day?

September 26th is celebrated every year by numerous countries worldwide as Mesothelioma Awareness Day. This is a week-long series of events and fundraisers that brings together people from all walks of life to improve awareness and share the stories of victims and survivors. Mesothelioma Awareness Day is also aimed at addressing the threat of undetected and untreated asbestos in homes, businesses and public places, as well as lobbying for legislation to tighten the restrictions around importing asbestos.


The majority of this action takes places in the US, and the lobbying element of Mesothelioma Awareness Day is unnecessary as asbestos is already banned in all forms in New Zealand. However, more events aimed at increasing awareness around the dangers of untreated asbestos and mesothelioma development would be an undoubted boost for the cause.


How can we celebrate Mesothelioma Awareness Day in New Zealand?

The Regional Public Health’s Event Calendar shows September 26th is currently an unused day on the public health awareness events calendar. Nationwide activities and engagement around the dangers of asbestos and fundraisers for mesothelioma research and treatment would fit into the current New Zealand health awareness events lineup seamlessly.


There are a numerous functions that could help the cause. Examples include:

  • Charity runs and other exercise-based events fundraising for mesothelioma research and treatment. This would work particularly well with encouraging better lung health and active routines for everyday Kiwis.

  • Major asbestos removal and treatment projects should be celebrated as steps towards reducing the impact of mesothelioma.

  • Finally, victims of the disease and their families would be given the chance to share their experiences of living with mesothelioma. Personal accounts of how they developed the condition would help to raise awareness of how common asbestos is around the country to this day.


Why is Mesothelioma Awareness Day so important?


As one of the only forms of cancer that is mostly preventable, improving everyday New Zealanders’ understanding of how dangerous asbestos can be and the effects of any exposure is vital to leading towards a healthier and safer future. Other forms of cancer have a devoted day to share the experiences of patients with the world. The best way to beat mesothelioma once and for all is to ensure that individuals are armed with the knowledge they need to reduce their risk of exposure in the first place.


They say that knowledge is power - and a major part of improving mesothelioma and asbestos awareness will come down to sharing the knowledge that asbestos experts have. Launching Mesothelioma Awareness Day as a major event in New Zealand involves educating home and business owners about how they can identify and deal with asbestos in their property.



Starting on the road to a safer future

Professionals in asbestos treatment and removal such as Chemcare will be key to changing attitudes towards the dangers of asbestos. Our team are certified in identifying, treating and removing asbestos from a variety of properties, and we can act as the failsafe to ensuring you can breath easy in your home and business.


There is little chance we can totally remove all asbestos from buildings in New Zealand in the near future - so we have to all plan for the long-term. Mesothelioma Awareness Day is an excellent step into getting Kiwis thinking about preventing the disease from affecting themselves, friends and family. It’s also a good point to get people thinking about how they deal with any asbestos they know is present, or suspect may be built into, their property.


If you think there may be asbestos on your property and you want to take steps to ensuring you have a safer future, reach out to the Chemcare team today for professional help. Even if you just want to talk to an expert about the dangers of asbestos and what can be done to reduce your risk of developing mesothelioma, we’re here and committed to raising awareness about the dangers of asbestos in any way we can!

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