The legacy of Britain’s widespread industrial use of asbestos continues to cause devastation to this day with news that an increasing number of elderly, former South Wales steelworkers are reported to be suffering from the fatal, incurable mesothelioma cancer.

The East Moors steel-making plant was first opened in Cardiff, South Wales in February 1891, and its four large blast furnaces and a dozen open-hearth stoves began production four years later. Throughout the early and middle decades of the twentieth century, East Moors was a major steel producing plant, which employed many hundreds of thousands of men until industrial decline saw the plant close in 1978.

Present within the environmental fabric

During the exact same period, asbestos use as an insulation material was at its peak, and while asbestos was not used in the actual production of steel, like many other heavy industrial workplaces across Britain, it was present within the environmental fabric itself.

Asbestos was used to make the bricks and the mortar, which lined the walls of the giant furnaces to act as a highly effective fireproofing material. Pipe work, which often ran the length of the buildings, was clad with raw asbestos mixed with water to form insulation lagging, and asbestos was also used to form the many roofing sheets covering buildings across the entire site.

As might be expected in a heavy industrial environment, normal working damage meant that quantities of asbestos fibre dust were constantly released into the enclosed atmosphere to be daily breathed in by furnace workers, some of whom worked most of their entire lives at East Moors.

Little or no personal protection

Unfortunately, during the 1960s and 70s, a lack of asbestos awareness to the long-term health risks meant that little or no personal protection, such as special breathing masks or overalls was provided. In addition, long-forgotten stories have recently resurfaced of asbestos “snowball” fights where the deadly material would be gathered up and thrown at each other by apprentices.

As is common with many former manufacturing, production and engineering works around the country, but mostly in the industrial centres of north England, the Midlands and south Wales, a number of asbestosis or mesothelioma compensation claims have arisen in the old East Moor plant since its closure thirty-five years ago.

Recent increase in numbers

However, the numbers appear to be have increased in recent years, and it is not unusual. It is well known that the gestation period from an initial period of exposure to the emergence of asbestosis symptoms can be between 15 and 50 years.

Millions of young men around the UK began their working lives in the 1950s and 60s in industries where asbestos was either in common use or was present in the very environment where they worked every day. It’s only now that many of these former workers, now in their 80s, are succumbing to the long term damage from their original, innocent exposure to asbestos.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have also estimated there are at least 4,700 asbestos disease related deaths recorded every year in the UK, which could reach over 60,000 by 2050.