Asbestos Hazard Taking Center Stage 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



In Australia and Taiwan, asbestos made headline news in August. On August 24 & 25, 2009, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's main evening news, The 7:30 Report, showed segments which focused on the widespread contamination caused by asbestos use in Australia.1 Interviews with eminent medical asbestos experts and asbestos victims as well as with Robert and Rosemarie Vojakovic from the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia (ADSA) touched on various issues including numerous cases of asbestos disease amongst younger people, families where multiple individuals had been killed by asbestos cancer, the ubiquity of asbestos products and asbestos-contaminated products within Australian society – such as recycled asbestos hessian bags used as carpet underlay2 – and even the death of 3 dogs from mesothelioma.

One particular segment stood out. Australian TV anchor Kerry O'Brien interviewed Rosemarie Vojakovic, who has counseled ADSA's asbestos victims for nearly 30 years.3 From the look on O'Brien's face it was clear that he was dumbfounded by the facts Rosemarie was recounting. The counselor's measured tones contrasted chillingly with the horrors she reported: the death of two brothers and their sister from mesothelioma, the numerous at-risk cohorts in Western Australia, the tragedies of young children orphaned by asbestos cancer. There was little doubt that Rosemarie could have drawn on hundreds of stories of ADSA members had time permitted. O'Brien categorized this “stunning piece of reportage,” as a “chilling catalogue of suffering and of tragedy.”

On August 26, news was received of the first “substantial TV program on asbestos” broadcast in Taiwan. The twenty-five minute program, which was in Chinese, was filmed by journalist Lou Ya-Jun. It can be seen in two parts, each of about 12 minutes, online:

  • Part 1: A protest demonstration shown in this segment was mounted in July 2009 outside the Labor Commission by the Taiwan Association for Victims of Occupational Injuries (TAVOI), a local NGO, on behalf of a shipbuilder who had died from mesothelioma and whose family was protesting government attempts to reduce the compensation payment to which he had been entitled. The background to this case was explained by the deceased's son, who also described the assistance received from TAVOI official Huang Hsiao-lin and Dr. Lee Jyuhn-Hsiarn.4
  • Part 2: Footage about the types of asbestos-containing building materials used in Taiwan is followed by information on measures which could be used to minimize hazardous exposures. According to a Taiwan-based colleague, this segment included footage of a “road covered with asbestos dusts.”5 When asked about this contamination a representative of the Ministry of the Environment made “a pathetic explanation.” Two other individuals made the case for the continued use of asbestos which was, they said, cheap and safe.6 The film compared high levels of asbestos activism in Korea and Japan with the situation in Taiwan and urged various Ministries to act on the asbestos hazard.

While the numbers of people affected by asbestos disease may be higher in Australia than in Taiwan there is no doubt that the asbestos epidemic is causing much suffering in both jurisdictions.

August 28, 2009


See: Medico highlights carpet cancer danger. August 24, 2009.

2 A scandal has broken out in recent days regarding the recycling by James Hardie of hessian bags used for the delivery of raw asbestos fiber. This scandal has been precipitated by the publication of a new book by Australian Journalist Matt Peacock called: Killer Company: James Hardie Exposed.


4 Part 1:

5 Email received on August 27, 2009.

6 Part 2:



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