Aussie family hit by double tragedy
A GOLD Coast tradesman has died during a visit to a local pub after contracting a killer disease dubbed "the new asbestos".
Anthony White, 36, made headlines last year after becoming the "face" of silicosis.
He publicly shared confronting photos of his emaciated frame and spoke to the media from his hospital bed in an effort to raise awareness of the condition.
The stonemason was diagnosed with the lethal lung disease in late 2017 after a decade of exposure to silica dust, which is found in engineered stone.
Tragically, he lost his battle against the disease this weekend after pub staff found him unconscious in a bathroom.
Mr White's younger brother Shane told 9 News his health had improved shortly before his death.
"He said he was starting to feel better. He was saying I feel like everything is starting to go well," Shane White told reporters, adding his brother had recently been put on a waiting list for a double lung transplant.
"Everything was starting to go on the up for him, so it was quite sudden in that way."
In a second, tragic blow for the White family, Shane White was also diagnosed with silicosis just last week.
Tributes have poured in on social media, with friends paying their respects on Facebook.
"Ant's memory will never fade in my mind. Such a kind soul, such a tragedy," one friend wrote, while another added: "He was such a gentle, kind soul with a contagious smile."
In a statement sent to news.com.au from his sick bed last August, Anthony White said laws needed to change to protect young lives.
"I want to make sure no one else has to go through this. It's been absolutely horrendous for me and my family who have had to watch me get sicker and sicker," he said in a statement.
"Wearing protective gear wasn't policed at any of my workplaces.
"There was so much dust flying around, you could feel the grit on your teeth and taste the dust in your mouth, but I didn't think it was a problem. I had no idea it could make you this sick.
"I would personally like to see rules enforced so nobody cuts it dry in any workplace anywhere in Australia. It's dangerous and it's putting lives at risk."
There has been an alarming recent spike in silicosis - also known as "the new asbestos" - among Aussie tradies believed to be linked to cutting engineered or artificial stone products used to make kitchen benchtops.
Last year, employment law experts Shine Lawyers called for an urgent national ban on dry cutting techniques in workshops along with tougher penalties for company breaches, with the firm speaking with a number of Aussie tradespeople who had developed the deadly illness.
In a statement sent to news.com.au, Shine Lawyers national special counsel for dust disease Roger Singh, who acted for Mr White since his silicosis diagnosis in late 2017, paid tribute to his young client.
"For the time I knew Anthony I was inspired by the courage and resilience of human spirit that he displayed. It had a profound effect on me and I'm sure so many others," he said.
"His death is an absolute tragedy and something which could have, and should have, been avoided.
"What is astounding is that we all know the horrible legacy left by asbestos so it beggars belief that this product - engineered stone - which causes horrific diseases like silicosis has not been regulated in a way to prevent death and destruction of workers."
Mr Singh said the time for "talk, investigation and debate" was over.
"We have been calling for the vigorous regulation of the handling and cutting of engineered stone for almost nine months and government agencies, manufacturers, suppliers and some employers have been derelict in their duty by not protecting stonemasons from toxic exposure," he said.
"In the wake of Anthony's sad and premature death we once again call for all states and territories to ensure safe workplaces in the engineered stone industry.
We urge that there be a co-ordinated approach led by the federal government to roll out a vigorous nationwide regulation of the stonemason industry.
"We cannot afford to see any further deaths or diagnoses and this needs to be an issue placed at the very top of government agendas right around the country."
WHAT IS SILICOSIS?
The progressive, irreversible lung disease is caused by long-term exposure to silica dust, which is created when artificial or engineered stone is cut.
Symptoms can include shortness of breath, cough, fever, cyanosis (bluish skin) and frequent chest infections, which can eventually lead to lung transplants and death.
If you are concerned about silicosis and are based in Queensland, where the majority of cases have been diagnosed, contact WorkCover on 1300 362 128 to arrange a health screen.