Aussie law professor shares asbestos warning before passing away from cancer

Date: 2021-12-28 08:44:39

Right before passing away, a 61-year-old professor found the strength to speak to A Current Affair to warn other families about the risks of renovating.

Deakin University law professor Gillian North passed away in her Thirroul home, south of Sydney, last Thursday after a three-year battle with the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma.

In the lead-up to her final moments, Professor North courageously spoke out with her husband of 25 years, Martin, and her twin sister, Jocelyn, by her side in the hope of saving other lives.

The late Deakin University law professor Gillian North and her husband Martin. (A Current Affair)

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“I’m dying from a disease that will probably kill me in a few weeks,” she told A Current Affair.

“Australia needs to wake up … I know of no other health risk in Australia like this one.”

Professor North said before her diagnosis she “had no idea about asbestos” and she wants others to know the very dangerous risks that can come with some home renovations.

The late Deakin University law professor Gillian North with her twin sister Jocelyn. (A Current Affair)

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“I was very ignorant and certainly didn’t know the links between home renovations and asbestos,” she said.

“If I had known about the risk of renovation, I would not have renovated at all.”

It’s believed more than 1000 people die from asbestos-related diseases in Australia each year.

The late Deakin University law professor Gillian North spoke to A Current Affair about the dangers of asbestos. (A Current Affair)

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The disease is normally linked to older men but tragically these days a record number of cases are women too.

Many of them, like Professor North, are blaming the dangerous game of renovation roulette.

“It can affect anybody – it doesn’t discriminate,” she said.

Gillian North and her husband Martin were new to the housing market in 1995. (A Current Affair)

“If you do DIY and don’t take precautions you could kill yourself,” Mr North said.

Back in 1995, Professor North and her husband were new to the housing market and decided to buy and renovate an old home.

The couple was convinced Professor North developed the incurable cancer in 2019, after unknowingly being exposed to asbestos.

Gillian and Martin North decided to buy and renovate an old home in the 1990s. (A Current Affair)

“The problem with asbestos, it is not easy to spot. It’s not just in sheets. It could be on carpet or underlay or lino, it could be in pipes, it could be in wires, it could be in the ceiling void,” Mr North said.

The do-it-yourself craze has taken off during the pandemic and home renovators are expected to spend a record $65 billion this year. But now there are warnings that asbestos is not only hidden in the walls.

Unfortunately, new building products are being imported into Australia today with up to 10 per cent of asbestos and they’re not being stopped at the borders,” Professor North said.

This year 868 Australians have already been diagnosed with the deadly cancer. Only six per cent will live past five years and the first tumours develop in the lungs, some 20 to 60 years after exposure. (A Current Affair)

It’s the hidden fibres that cause mesothelioma and 868 Australians have already been diagnosed with the deadly cancer this year.

Only 6 per cent will live past five years.

The first tumours develop in the lungs, some 20 to 60 years after exposure and breathing becomes more and more difficult.

Hidden fibres can cause mesothelioma. (A Current Affair)

“It’s very interesting how the politicians and big corporations have been trying to portray asbestos as yesterday’s disease. It’s always an old man’s disease ‘we fixed it because we’ve banned asbestos’. It’s a very convenient story for them to portray but it’s actually not true,” Mr North said.

For generations Aussies have been living with asbestos and while it was banned in 2003, it’s still lurking in public buildings, schools and homes with one in three properties containing the deadly substance.

The briefest exposure can be lethal.

The DIY craze has taken off during the pandemic. (A Current Affair)

“Start from the assumption that there is asbestos there. Before you touch it, get it checked … if you can’t do that you stand the risk of dying like Gillian is dying,” Mr North warned.

The law professor devoted her final months to researching the hidden dangers in home renovations and she founded Asbestos Awareness Australia, which is a not-for-profit company rallying for government reform to better protect renovators.

In her almost final moments, she said her biggest message “would be to change the law”.

“If I can save one life then it is well worth doing.”

For more information about Asbestos Awareness Australia, visit here.


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