More than 60,000 people will die over the next 30 years as a result of Mesothelioma and the North will be one of the regions hardest hit.

The shocking figures emerged as a conference was staged in the North East region about the killer disease of which the union Unite called for a new law to ensure the safe removal of asbestos from buildings.

Since 1981 there have been over 3,000 deaths in the North caused by Mesothelioma, the tragic legacy of the North’s industrial past. Across the UK the overall figures is 43,000.

The rare form of cancer is mainly linked to exposure to asbestos, a material commonly used on ships as well as old buildings. It was only in 1999 that its use was banned in the UK, one of the last European countries to do so.

It can lie dormant for 15 to 50 years which explains why death rates are increasing in the region as well as nationally.

Chris Knighton, whose husband Mick fell victim to it in 2001, said: “It certainly isn’t a disease from yesterday. It is very much for the now and the future.

“It’s like a ticking timebomb which is now exploding.”

Figures, published by the government’s Health and Safety Executive, showed that of the 20 worst hit region in the country for male deaths, seven were from the North.

Meanwhile for women, four of the 20 worst hit areas are from this region too.

Researchers analysed the amount of Mesothelioma deaths in each area against the ‘Standard Mortality Rate’ (SMR) which is set at 100, with figures above that number representing a higher than expected death rate.

Barrow-in-Furness, well known in the past for its shipyards, came out top with an astonishingly high SMR of 493 and 241 male deaths. As expected, areas along the River Tyne also famed for its shipyards, fared little better.

The third worst hit in the country was North Tyneside with an SMR of 309 and 411 deaths. South Tyneside was joint fifth with an SMR of 303 and 321 deaths.

The total number of male and female deaths from 1981 to 2011 was 3,309. Researchers also analysed the figures in five year periods from 1981/85 to 2006/10. In that time male and female deaths in the North leapt from 273 to 708 in the most recent five year period, a huge 166% rise. The country’s largest union, Unite, called for a new asbestos eradication law requiring the safe, planned removal of all the asbestos that still remains in place.

Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail said: “Sixteen years after asbestos was banned in the UK, exposure to asbestos, which causes the incurable disease mesothelioma, remains ‘an ever present danger’.”

Meanwhile in Gateshead, patients, carers, health and legal professionals, union officers and all whose lives have been touched by this devastating disease, gathered for a conference.

Among them was Chris who has dedicated her life to campaigning to help those affected by the deadly condition. She set up the Mick Knighton Mesothelioma Research Fund, based in Wallsend, North Tyneside, which has raised more than £1m for research and supported hundreds of people.

She said: “We’ve done an awful lot to help but more needs to be done to make a difference here in the North East to deal with the tragic legacy of its industrial past.”

Mesothelioma accounts for less than 1% of all cancers diagnosed in the UK. It is around five times more common in men than in women.

Incidence rates in the UK have increased almost five-fold since the late 1970s, though they have remained stable over the last decade in the UK.

More than eight in 10 mesothelioma deaths in the UK occur in men. Around half of deaths connected to it in the UK are in people aged 75 and over.

Asbestos is the main potentially avoidable risk factor for mesothelioma, linked to an estimated 94% of mesothelioma cases in the UK.

If you or a family member have been affected by mesothelioma, please contact us on 0800 294 3065 where we will be able to support and advise you in the best way possible.