Mum with silicosis reveals heartache ahead of national dust disease task force report


‘It terrifies me’: Mum-of-two, 34, who contracted a deadly disease dubbed the ‘new asbestosis’ while at her desk says not knowing how long she has to live is the hardest part of her battle ahead of blockbuster report victims hope will save lives

  • Dust disease task force set up in 2019 is due to hand down recommendations 
  • Workers with silicosis such as Joanna McNeill nervously waiting the report
  • Silica dust particles are tiny and when breathed in can cause silicosis
  • Victims exposed during housing boom and popularity of stone benchtops










Australian mother-of-two Joanna McNeill, 34, was diagnosed with silicosis after working in an administration job near a quarry

Australian mother-of-two Joanna McNeill, 34, was diagnosed with silicosis after working in an administration job near a quarry

Workers with deadly silicosis like Joanna McNeill and their families are still waiting for action on the incurable disease that has been dubbed the new asbestosis.

A national dust disease task force set up in 2019 is due to hand its final recommendations to government this month, after getting a COVID-19 extension.

Exposure to crystalline silica dust in engineered stone increasingly used for kitchen benchtops is of particular concern to Safe Work Australia, which is a member of the task force.

Unions want a compensation fund, minimum benchmarks to protect workers in every affected industry, penalties for employers, a national health screening program, and a register for every diagnosed case of silicosis to track the scale of the emerging disease.

But Safe Work Australia chief executive Michelle Baxter said it was still unknown what action will result from the findings.

Mrs McNeill pictured with her husband and her two daughters aged two and four-years-old. 'My greatest fear with my kids is I just want to be around for them,' the mother said

Mrs McNeill pictured with her husband and her two daughters aged two and four-years-old. ‘My greatest fear with my kids is I just want to be around for them,’ the mother said 

‘I don’t know where those issues will ultimately land,’ he told a Senate estimates hearing on Wednesday.

Labor senator Tony Sheldon said dangerous industries should be dealt with ahead of final advice.

He used the case of Ms McNeill, a 34-year-old mother of two who was diagnosed with silicosis last year after returning to her office job at a quarry, as an example.

‘It’s the unknown which is so terrifying,’ he quoted Ms McNeill as saying.

‘At the moment I am feeling healthy, but I don’t know if that will be the case in one year, let alone five or 10 years and as a mum of two young daughters that terrifies me.’

Silica dust particles are tiny and when breathed in can cause silicosis, with cases fuelled by the ongoing housing boom and popularity of engineered stone for kitchen renovations.

Mrs McNeill pictured with her husband and her two daughters aged two and four-years-old. 'My greatest fear with my kids is I just want to be around for them,' the mother said

Mrs McNeill pictured with her husband and her two daughters aged two and four-years-old. ‘My greatest fear with my kids is I just want to be around for them,’ the mother said 

Ms McNeill has previously revealed how she could feel dust from the quarry covering her face and hair when she left her office building to go home each day.

‘This is a life sentence for me and I don’t know when my time is up,’ she told 9News.

‘My greatest fear with my kids is I just want to be around for them. I don’t want to die early. I just want to be there for them.’

‘This whole process has given me so much anxiety… not knowing what the future holds.’

The taskforce is considering regulations for working with engineered stone but an outright ban is unlikely.

Silicosis involves silica dust slowly scarring the lungs. The disease typically affects tradesmen who work with concrete, bricks, tiles, sandstone and granite

Silicosis involves silica dust slowly scarring the lungs. The disease typically affects tradesmen who work with concrete, bricks, tiles, sandstone and granite

Senator Sheldon said workers aged 30 to 40 are the ones most often exposed to silica dust, not just in construction but also in mining, excavation, road and tunnel construction projects, and in the manufacturing of cement and concrete.

‘Their life expectancy is substantially reduced,’ he said.

There has been a federal funding boost to silicosis research.

But the federal government is yet to open the national dust disease register recommended 18 months ago in the interim report from the task force.

What is silicosis?  

Silicosis is an aggressive and incurable lung disease which results from breathing in crystalline silica (sand) dust.

The disease has been recognised as occurring in workers exposed to dust for hundreds of years – usually workers who had prolonged exposure to mineral dust, such as while working in mines.

When products containing crystalline silica are cut, crushed, polished or worked with in similar ways, they release very fine dust particles into the air which are usually so small as to be invisible.

These are then inhaled and may become lodged deep within the lungs where they can cause serious damage to your lungs and health.

Exposure to crystalline silica dust can cause chronic bronchitis and emphysema, among other lung diseases. Silica dust exposure symptoms include shortness of breath, severe cough, chest pain and fatigue.

There is no such thing as silica cancer. However, the presence of silica dust in the lungs can greatly increase the risk of developing lung cancer. Lung cancer from silica dust is also more likely if the person has been a smoker.

Silicosis is a disease marked by inflammation and scarring of the lungs. Silicosis is generally a progressive condition, which can lead to the development of other silica dust lung diseases and may lead to death.

 



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Written by bourbiza

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