Michelle’s Story

(Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that this story contains the image and name of an Indigenous person who has passed away.)


Michelle Iorangi, a Townsville mother of six, lost her husband Nako in 2019 due to silica dust exposure. He was just 42.

Nako worked for Zapp Powder Coating.

Prior to diagnosis, the previously active dad began to have symptoms such as regular chest infections, coughing and shortness of breath. A 2015 X-ray identified lung scarring and his condition deteriorated rapidly.

“My husband’s illness has had a great toll on the whole family. We can no longer be full and complete. As a family we go together to his grave,” Michelle says.

Michelle says Nako’s workplace took few precautionary measures to prevent workers’ exposure to silica dust.

“Workers were merely provided with paper dust masks, and only if they were working in the powder room. Masks were constantly reused and shared amongst the workers,” she says.

“My husband would often return home covered in a thick layer of dust and would hug the kids. He would have to use dishwashing liquid to wash it off, as soap itself did not remove it.

“I had to wash his work clothes at home because there was no laundry facility at his workplace. This exposed the family to the dust as well.”

Mitchelle says prior to Nako’s illness, her husband was very active. He would ride his bike with the kids, play footy, go fishing and help with household chores.

But as his condition worsened the family could no longer do much together.

“Silicosis affected his day-to-day activities significantly. He could no longer walk down a few steps as he would run out of breath.

“The children witnessed their father go from being a healthy and active man to someone who could not walk. All my children and grandchildren witnessed my husband dying.”

Michelle says Nako’s death has had a significant financial impact on the family.

“I am struggling with a casual job just so that I can provide for six children and put food on the table.”