It may be all too easy to assume that exposure to asbestos and the subsequent contracting of asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis, pleural plaques and mesothelioma is now mostly consigned to the UK’s industrial past.
The long latency period of between 15 to 50 years before asbestosis symptoms appear from first asbestos exposure means that deaths from asbestos-related disease continue into the 21st century.
Asbestos was still being used as an insulating material in manufacturing and engineering until the 1970s and the construction industry continued to build with white asbestos material into the 1980s, until a final ban was introduced in 1999.
While the total number of male mesothelioma deaths from 1968 to 2007 was over 32,000, death occurring as a result of asbestos-related disease in 2009 was 2,500. Currently, some 4,000 deaths per year are recorded and future mortality rates are forecast to rise to 59,000 by 2050.
Today, the grim facts are that news still continues to surface of homes, schools, hospitals and work premises being found to contain significant quantities of asbestos material ( mostly chrysotile white asbestos) in the fabric of the building. However, of major concern is the constant lack of asbestos awareness to the risks of exposure during a site renovation or demolition by both the proprietors and the contractors.
Just this month a joiner diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma – claimed to be as a result of exposure to asbestos while at work – was paid over £350,000 in mesothelioma compensation from his former employer. The joiner believed he was exposed to the deadly asbestos fibres when moving asbestos floor and ceiling tiles at shoe shops in the 1990s. However, the first symptoms of chest and back pain only emerged at the end of 2009 and not diagnosed as mesothelioma cancer until May 2010.
Not all asbestos diseases and subsequent deaths are as a result of working in traditional asbestos-using industries, such as construction, shipbuilding, railway engineering, and textile manufacture. There are constant reports of employees working in unrelated occupations who are unwittingly exposed to asbestos in workplaces right up until the latter end of the twentieth century.
During the recent demolition of a large retail department store in Scotland, one of the most deadly forms of asbestos mineral, amosite (brown asbestos), which was finally banned from use in 1985, was discovered. A female store assistant who also worked in a busy stockroom located in the basement between 1981 and 1987 only saw the onset of symptoms in 2004 when fluid gathered in the lining of her lung and tragically, later died at the age of just 58.
Figures released by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) in 2009 show that after the early 1990s, new cases of asbestosis had risen to 800 and deaths from mesothelioma had exceeded 2,250 by 2008.