Sydney, Australia – On January 20, 2009 Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd presided over the opening dedication of the Bernie Banton Asbestos Diseases Research Institute (BBADRI). Located on the grounds of Sydney’s Concord Hospital, the $12 million facility is the world’s largest stand alone institute dedicated entirely to the advancement of scientific investigations into asbestos-caused malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM), an aggressive, deadly, and incurable form of lung cancer. Public and private donation funded, the BBADRI will be partially staffed by physicians and researchers from Concord Hospital.
Named for a man who is considered to be a true Australian hero, the BBADRI celebrates the life of Bernie Banton, a man who had worked for years for James Hardie, a worldwide manufacturer and distributor of asbestos containing cementitious building supplies and other products. While at Hardie, Bernie’s job exposed him, as well as thousands of other workers, to high levels of asbestos over a period of many years.
Bernie Banton died in 2007, his name added to a list of thousands of Australian workers who have succumbed to MPM, but, before Bernie died, he fought a heroic battle against Hardie on the behalf of all the workers that had been sickened by Hardie’s failure to protect its employees from the well-known hazards of asbestos. Mr. Banton’s courageous and tireless efforts eventually resulted in a staggering $4 billion dollar worker compensation package from Hardie.
At the asbestos center’s opening ceremonies, after praising Bernie Banton’s battle against the manufacturing giant, Prime Minister Rudd pledged $5 million to the state-of-the-art facility that will conduct bench (laboratory) and clinical (patient-involved) research programs designed to better understand asbestos-caused MPM while developing novel therapies to treat it.
The Dutch head of the BBADRI, Professor Nico van Zandwijk is a thoracic oncology specialist who reports that the new asbestos center is the result of a group of forward-thinking Australians who recognized the need for such a facility several years ago. “We aim to study specific pathways to disease and relate them to prognosis and treatment,” said Zandwijk, who went on to state, “We will also concentrate on education and prevention, and work on plans to ensure that the affected victim receives optimal treatment. Ultimately, the aim will be to find new ways to treat a disease that is largely resistant to most forms of traditional therapy.”
As a relevant note, while it was PM Rudd who officially dedicated the Sydney cancer center, the politician has recently come under fire from the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), a worker organization that accuses the Australian government of serious failures in enforcing a nationwide ban on asbestos. The ACTU, as well as five its major unions, recently sent a letter to PM Rudd, wherein it was stated that the government must establish an “asbestos task force” to investigate the thousands of daily exposures to asbestos that occur in Australia every day-many of those needlessly endangered by asbestos being Australian Navy and other military personnel. Sharan Burrow is the President of the ACTU, and she called PM Rudd’s dedication of the BBADRI a “hollow gesture” by the government leader who has, to date, “failed to act to protect Australians from the very real dangers of exposure to asbestos.”
At the dedication, PM Rudd stated, “Next year, around 750 Australians will be diagnosed with asbestos-related disease,” and that “these are bad figures.” Rudd went on to say that by 2020, Australia would be faced with over 13,000 cases of asbestos-caused mesothelioma. Bad figures, indeed, but Bernie Banton’s cancer center will be there to help solve the mystery of this dreaded disease.