DANGEROUS FIBRES: An asbestos mine in Baryulgil in the 1970s. The mine, operated by James Hardie from 1944 to 1976, was open until 1979.
DANGEROUS FIBRES: An asbestos mine in Baryulgil in the 1970s. The mine, operated by James Hardie from 1944 to 1976, was open until 1979. Contributed

Asbestos a major concern for Aboriginal community

A MAJOR concern within the Aboriginal community in the Clarence and across the north coast at the moment is the long-term effects of the Baryulgil asbestos mine.

In particular malignant mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer.

Usually the chances of getting this disease are one to two in a million per year. This disease seems to occur after exposure to asbestos dust and may take up to 40 years or more to show itself after first exposure.

Malignant mesothelioma frequently results in the accumulation of large amounts of fluid in the chest or abdominal cavities. This tends to cause breathlessness or distension of the abdomen. The cancer cells also tend to invade the normal tissues of the lung and chest wall. This causes severe chest pain.

This disease is more far reaching than just affecting the miners. At the Baryulgil mine everyone in the small community was in daily contact with asbestos dust, children played in tailings and tailings were routinely used as landfill in the Baryulgil community.

Asbestos exposure is a powerful environmental determinant of health that brings people to our centre for expert health advice, assessment and management of related health conditions.

Anyone who was living or had any contact with the asbestos mine at Baryulgil during its period of operation from 1942 to 1979 should have a simple spirometry test.

This involves blowing into a machine that records breathing function and capacity. As a first step, make an appointment or come to one of our clinics for a spirometry test.


Most commonly known as the flu, it is easily spread through coughing and sneezing - the droplets from our coughs carry the virus.

These droplets carried on our hands have been known to last up to eight hours on hard surfaces such as stainless steel and plastic. When you think of all those hands in one day on a shopping trolley you can see how easily it can be spread.

It is a serious disease that can cause life-threatening complications in the young, old and those with other health problems such as diabetes or kidney and heart problems. Influenza is a group of viruses that causes infections in the respiratory tract.

All children under five are vulnerable to the flu, but Aboriginal children are more likely to have complications such as pneumonia or otitis media and require hospitalisation.

Aboriginal children are five times more likely to die from influenza than non-Aboriginal children.

Sometimes people are reluctant to have their children vaccinated against the flu as they believe their kids are fit and healthy and able to fight it off themselves. However, statistics show half the children who die from the flu are fit and healthy kids who don't have any other medical conditions.

Babies under six months are too young for the immunisation but having those around them vaccinated against the flu gives them some protection.

Kids under five are also good at spreading it due to their age as they are yet to develop good hand-washing and coughing practices.

Influenza symptoms can be mild or none and people with flu are contagious for up to two days before symptoms show. Using good hygiene practices such as coughing into your bent elbow if you have no tissues, hand washing and staying home or away from others when sick helps prevent the spread of the flu and further protects you and your family.

Bulgarr Ngaru Medical Aboriginal Corporation nurses and doctors will be only too happy to help you.

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