We so often hear of unfortunate mesothelioma victims who were exposed to asbestos fibres used as insulation materials in traditional heavy industries, such as shipbuilding, manufacturing, construction, railway and automobile assembly – right up until the 1980s at least.

At the same time, cases are also not infrequently heard where men and women, such as teachers, nurses and shop assistants employed in asbestos-unrelated occupations fell victim to mesothelioma or asbestosis disease because the buildings they worked in were constructed with asbestos containing materials. Despite growing medical evidence, there was a general lack of asbestos awareness to the fatal consequences of breathing in the fibre dust in whatever unlikely workplace it was found.

Undetected asbestos exposure

The grim truth is that asbestos use was widespread throughout Britain until the first bans were introduced in the mid 1980s and was still being used in the building industry over the following decade. Consequently, it cannot be assumed that any occupational sector – especially buildings constructed or renovated up until the final asbestos ban in 1999 – was or is now safe from the presence of undetected asbestos materials.

Examples of victims who died from mesothlioma cancer without any apparent explanation as to the exact location of the exposure have again been reported in the north of England, well known as a former asbestos blackspot for most of the twentieth century.

In April 2012, an 86 year old Nottingham woman passed away after being unexpectedly diagnosed with the incurable, fatal mesothelioma cancer. According to her daughter, the mother’s diagnosis and death came as a “total shock” to the family as “she was otherwise in really good health.”

Looking back at the work history, there was a period between 1961 and 1968, where employment at a dry cleaning company is thought to be the most likely place where regular exposure occurred over a seven year period.

Later in the same year, September 2012, a former mould maker at a Staffordshire pottery works died at the age of 80, just two months after being diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer. Once again, it was said by the family that he was “fit and healthy for his age” until suffering a fall, after which, an x-ray revealed the presence of “shadows on his lungs”.

The work history shows continuous employment between 1950 and 1972 at the Stoke on Trent pottery where exposure to asbestos is believed to have taken place.

Rise in mesothlioma fatalities

Despite the peak period of asbestos use from the 1940s through to the late 1970s and early 80s, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) released figures in 2009, which show that even after the early 1990s, new cases of asbestosis had risen to 800 and deaths from mesothelioma had exceeded 2,250 by 2008.

The Health & Safety Executive claim that at least 2,000 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed every year and two-thirds of deaths have occurred since the year 2000.

Asbestos was and can still be discovered in the most unexpected of places, and as the above cases illustrate, is a reminder of the ever present risk of hidden asbestos.