School of Population and Global Health

Blue Asbestos - Crocidolite

Blue asbestos in the fieldWestern Australia has been left with a legacy of asbestos-related diseases as a result of the now defunct blue asbestos (crocidolite) industry at Wittenoom which operated from 1943 until 1966.

It has resulted in unique groups of workers and residents with defined and exclusive exposure to crocidolite.

A significant excess of malignant mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer has occurred in both groups. Two cohort studies began in 1975 to determine:

  • The incidence of malignant mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis, and other cancers in former workers and residents of Wittenoom, WA. The follow up of these two cohorts involves the identification of deaths, cancers and hospital admissions in Western Australia, and nationally. Follow up has been assisted through collaboration with Dr Enzo Merler of the Cancer Prevention Centre in Florence, who has followed up Italian migrants who returned to Italy after working in Wittenoom. This arm of the project also contributes to the surveillance of malignant mesothelioma in Western Australia, and maintenance of the Western Australian Mesothelioma Register in conjunction with the Western Australian Cancer Registry.
  • Dose-response relationships between blue asbestos (crocidolite) and malignant mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. By measuring lung fibres in lung cancer and mesothelioma case autopsies, the dose - effects of asbestos exposure may be estimated. This work is ongoing and in conjunction with Dr Vincent Williams, Dr Daryl Whitaker and Dr Keith Shilkin at PathWest, Western Australia.
  • The combined effects of tobacco smoking and exposure to crocidolite on the risk of malignant mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. Our previous work has shown that cigarette smoking has a multiplicative effect on the risk of lung cancer among those subjects exposed to asbestos, both occupationally and environmentally.
  • Health effects from environmental exposure to crocidolite. With regard to public health and safety standards, it has been especially important to determine the levels of environmental exposure experienced in Wittenoom and the resulting health effects, as distinct from those heavier exposures experienced by workers in the mine and mill.
  • Familial relationships in the development of malignant mesothelioma. Several families who once lived at Wittenoom have had more than one relative develop malignant mesothelioma. Our research is currently focusing on the collection of family histories of disease and residence at Wittenoom, from both cohorts. The identification and statistical analysis of sibling - sets of malignant mesothelioma cases will assist in disentangling what is compelling although so far, anecdotal evidence of familial clusters.
  • The impact of exposure to blue asbestos on women and girls at Wittenoom. Most of what we know about asbestos exposure comes from cohort studies of men exposed in their occupation. Our research is examining the impact of exposure to asbestos on women and girls at Wittenoom, who were exposed either in their occupation or from their general environment.
  • Psychosocial impact of asbestos exposure. The impact on physical health from exposure to blue asbestos at Wittenoom is well known, what is not understood is the impact of this exposure on psychosocial health. This project is examining responses to a questionnaire sent to all surviving Wittenoom workers and residents in 2007 asking about their locus of control (whether they feel they have control over their life) and quality of life (Short Form 12). Responses will be related to quantitative measures of asbestos exposure and subsequent asbestos-related disease in the first instance.


These studies are funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, and involve collaboration with:

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Last updated:
Friday, 29 January, 2016 11:11 AM