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James Hardie unlikely to pay compensation for Aboriginal kids exposed to asbestos in NSW town of Baryulgil

Matt Peacock - ABC News, September 8, 2016

Asbestos in Australia

Floyd Laurie, 54, who has never worked with asbestos, was exposed to the deadly dust as a schoolchild when tailings from the mine were widely used as landfill on the roads, around houses and even at the school in the tiny community.

"We used to have it all around our yard," Mr Laurie told 7.30.

"We used to play marbles. We used to make pancakes and eat it! We didn't know what it was."

James Hardie operated the mine from just after World War II until 1976, shortly before it closed.

But the former asbestos multinational appears unlikely to pay Mr Laurie any compensation.

Because of a special clause in the agreement struck in 2005 between the NSW government and James Hardie after it moved offshore, it can only be sued in relation to the Baryulgil mine as a "defendant of last resort".

Mr Laurie's lawyer, Tanya Segelov, has instead commenced proceedings against the NSW Education Department, because Mr Laurie and his sister, brother and schoolmates were all exposed to asbestos in the playground of the Baryulgil Primary School.

"It's absurd that the people responsible are not being sued, but it's the state and the taxpayers who will be paying compensation for what really is James Hardie's problem," Ms Segelov told 7.30.

"It makes me really angry to think that decades after the dangers of asbestos were known, these kids had no chance. They were covered in it."

Although the company was aware of the dangers of asbestos and its link to cancer for many decades, the Aboriginal people from Baryulgil say they were never warned.

"When they dropped off the new tailings we would just go and play in these piles of asbestos," Mr Laurie's sister, Di Randall, told 7.30.

"To us it was just like dirt or sand. We thought it wasn't harmful because no-one told us that it was, so we just dived in it."

Michelle Larkin remembers when she was about 10 years old watching the truck from the mine dump loads of asbestos tailings outside the school.

"We were all given little buckets to carry the asbestos up through the school and we started building a volleyball court," she told 7.30.

"Straight after school, we were into it, diving into it. It wasn't anything new to us because we lived with asbestos. Asbestos mountains were my first sand hills."

Fears Floyd is just the first

Although Mr Laurie is the first of the children to develop mesothelioma, the fear is others might too.

Ms Randall told 7.30 she is now scared to have a medical check-up.

"I'm frightened that I could have something, so every day I just wake up and think I'm the lucky one," she said.

"But then my luck could run out, too. We don't know."

Mesothelioma is almost always fatal within a year of first diagnosis.

Mr Laurie says with the little time he has left, he wants to "live life to the full", including going on the honeymoon he never had with his wife.

 

You can see the original article here.