Asbestos and the risk of exposure are always in the news. Lack of asbestos awareness to the serious health dangers right up until 1999 when the import of white asbestos was finally banned means that the horrific legacy of mesothelioma cancer and other asbestosis diseases still continue on an upward curve.
Asbestos compensation cases have doubled from 574 cases in 2007 to 1,164 in 2010. With an estimated 45,000 mesothelioma deaths forecast by 2050, the terrible aftermath of asbestos use is nowhere near being consigned to this country’s grim industrial past but still very much with us today.
While the most toxic forms of brown and blue asbestos were banned in the mid 1980s, white asbestos was still being imported and the fibres used in manufacturing insulation materials, such as wall board, lagging, cement and textured surface coatings for the building industry.
It was only in 1999 when legislation was introduced, which aimed to finally stop white asbestos imports, and enforced by an European Directive in January 2005. This means that men and women could still be routinely working with and exposed to asbestos at their workplace as recently as less than ten years ago.
Recent victims of the incurable mesothelioma cancer, aged just in their late 50s to early 60s, highlight both the comparatively recent exposure and the shocking lack of asbestos awareness which meant neglect of the required safety precautions and issue of protective equipment/clothing.
In a case of secondary asbestos exposure, a 56 year old Derby housewife had washed her husband’s asbestos-covered clothes every week for ten years during the 1980s, and used to regularly shake off the asbestos dust and dirt before placing in the washing machine.
The lengthy gestation period from when the asbestos fibres are inhaled until the first mesothelioma or asbestosis symptoms appear can be between 15 to 50 years. The unfortunate victim, as is common with many who contract mesothelioma, only became aware of breathing difficulties and received a confirmed diagnosis 30 years later when the disease was at an advanced stage, and less than 6 months before passing away.
In another example of a more recent asbestos exposure which led to the onset of mesothelioma, a Cambridgeshire carpenter aged just 65 and employed at an estates department from 1989 was working on a building development in 2008, which involved the demolition of a concrete barn constructed with asbestos containing materials.
As is so often reported, non-compliance with the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006 meant that the asbestos sheets were simply demolished on the spot with no adequate precautions or procedures in place, releasing the deadly fibre dust into the air. As a result the victim now has terminal mesothelioma and needs to take a cocktail of 30 drugs a day to control the pain.
Between 1968 and 2008, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reported there had been an 100-fold increase in mesothelioma fatality with more than 2,200 cases reported. Currently, around 2,000 cases of mesothelioma are still being diagnosed every year in the UK.