Ffloyd Laurie, pictured with his wife Noelene at Casino in 2014, has been diagnosed with the incurable asbestos cancer mesothelioma.
Ffloyd Laurie, pictured with his wife Noelene at Casino in 2014, has been diagnosed with the incurable asbestos cancer mesothelioma. Samantha Elley

'Wave' of asbestos victims to emerge from toxic school

UPDATE, 10.30AM: THE LAWYER representing a Casino man dying from asbestos-related lung disease mesothelioma has said she expected a wave of victims to emerge in coming years.

Tanya Segelov, who is representing 54-year-old Ffloyd Laurie in a lawsuit against the NSW Education Department, said it would be "amazing" if others who grew up in the Aboriginal community of Baryulgil in the 1960s and 1970s failed to contract the disease.

"It takes 40 years to develop, so this is the time," Ms Segelov said.

"What we know is there was a whole community exposed in this way. They're not all going to get it. It's a lottery as to who will and who won't."

"They know about the disease, they've lived with the consequences of it. Now we're seeing the next generation of it.

"The insidious thing about asbestos is you've got to wait 40 years for it to develop."

Mr Laurie was diagnosed in June with the disease after suffering from a prolonged cough.

Following scans, doctors immediately recognised the fluid on his lungs as characteristic of the deadly disease.

Mesothelioma sufferers are usually given between nine and 12 months to live.

Ffloyd Laurie speaks about asbestos-related disease: Ffloyd Laurie has been diagnosed with asbestos-related lung disease mesothelioma.
Ffloyd Laurie speaks about asbestos-related disease: Ffloyd Laurie has been diagnosed with asbestos-related lung disease mesothelioma.

Unlike the previous generation who contracted the disease after working in the notorious James Hardie asbestos mine, this generation was exposed to asbestos tailings away from the mine while at school and playing in their community.

Ms Segelov said ironically, the Baryulgil community had very happy memories of growing up in a "loving and very stable" community - partly thanks to the reliable, prosperity afforded to their community from jobs in the mine.

But the memories of the idyllic childhood had long been shattered by the deadly legacy of the mine and the tragedy to all the families who lost their dads and uncles.

Ms Segelov said the compensation sought from the NSW Education Department would come in enough time for Mr Laurie to afford the "best available" treatment for the disease, to provide peace of mind for his family - for whom he was the main breadwinner - and to enjoy his life in the little time he has left.

She said the broader goal of the lawsuit was to put it "on the record" that the first child of the original generation exposed to the disease had been struck down.

She said because Baryulgil was an Aboriginal community many of their illnesses had been put down to "lifestyle diseases" by James Hardie over the years, but "they can't argue this one" because asbestos was the sole cause of mesothelioma.

"There will be more people coming after Ffloyd," she said.

"We want to make sure that this community is not forgotten."

The lawsuit will be expedited and is expected to be resolved within three months.

"We hope the state will come to the table and negotiate a settlement," Ms Segelov said.


ORIGINAL: ASBESTOS victims have warned that a former Northern Rivers student is likely to be the first of many diagnosed with cancer as a result of tailings from a nearby James Hardie asbestos mine being spread throughout the school's playground.

ABC 7.30 last night reported the case of Ffloyd Laurie, a 54-year-old man diagnosed with the incurable asbestos cancer mesothelioma earlier this year.

Mr Laurie spent his childhood in the 1960s and 70s in Baryulgil, south of Casino, where his father worked at the nearby asbestos mine, operated by James Hardie from 1953 to 1976.

His father subsequently died from an asbestos related disease contracted due to his former employment.

Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia president, Barry Robson, said Mr Laurie was believed to be the first former student diagnosed with mesothelioma as a result of the long-running practice of using asbestos mine tailings in the school grounds.

Children played and crawled through asbestos

"For decades, the mine manager would arrange for asbestos tailings to be sent down the road from the mine and dumped in the school," Mr Robson said.

"Former students recall being given buckets which they filled with asbestos and used to fill holes in the volleyball court and elsewhere in the playground, while photographs show piles of asbestos waste used as part of an 'obstacle course' for the children to play and crawl through.

"Decades after the deadly nature of asbestos was confirmed, this toxic substance was deliberately being delivered to a public school where children would be exposed to it daily."

First diagnosis from childhood exposure

Mr Robson said that while many former mine workers and residents of Baryulgil had contracted asbestos-related diseases, Mr Laurie was the first whose only exposure occurred in childhood.

"Mr Laurie was a non-smoker who never worked with asbestos, so his childhood in Baryulgil was unquestionably the cause of his diagnosis with aggressive, incurable mesothelioma," he said.

"With up to 70 children enrolled at the school at any time, and the use of asbestos waste continuing for decades, there is no doubt he is just the first of many who will have their lives cut short."

Taxpayers to foot the bill

Mr Robson said it was a disgrace that taxpayers, rather than James Hardie, would be forced to foot the entire compensation bill resulting from the practice.

"Under the compensation arrangements negotiated in 2005, James Hardie became a defendant of last resort, forcing victims to sue any other possible organisation first before they could make a claim against the nation's largest former asbestos producer," he said.

"That means the NSW Government, and by default taxpayers, will be left footing the entire compensation bill for former Baryulgil Public School students who fall victim to the asbestos waste that was dumped at their school by James Hardie."

Mr Laurie's legal action

Mr Laurie is taking legal action in a ground-breaking case against the NSW Government in relation to his exposure to asbestos at the public school.

He is being represented by dust diseases specialist Tanya Segelov, who is also a member of the Federal Government's Asbestos Safety and Eradication Council.

She said he never worked in industries where asbestos is prevalent, and that his only known exposure to the toxic substance occurred at Baryulgil.