Britain’s death toll from asbestos at crisis level

Australia and the United Kingdom have fully banned asbestos. That has been the case for a long time. Yet, Australia and the UK have among the highest rates of mesothelioma in the world, and in the UK, the death toll is reaching crisis levels. Hearing this, questions come up. Why, if they banned asbestos so long ago? This article focuses on the UK.
It would have been ideal for asbestos to be banned earlier, naturally. Roger Maddocks is a partner in the law firm Irwin Mitchell LLP. Irwin Mitchell LLP specializes in workplace illnesses and injuries. Roger Maddocks said that in many cases, people are now paying the price for criminal failings made by industry and the government. Evidently, the Factory Inspectorate (which was the precursor to the Health and Safety Executive, or HSE) didn’t quite do its job. Maddocks claims that as early as the end of the 19th century the Factory Inspectorate knew asbestos could cause respiratory illnesses that were life-threatening, and by the mid 1960s it was public knowledge that exposure to small amounts of asbestos could give you mesothelioma. Even though people, in the mid-60s, knew how dangerous asbestos was, many still got exposed, even heavily. A spokesperson for the HSE said that controls on blue asbestos were introduced in 1970. But the dangers of brown asbestos were not appreciated until far into that decade. Here comes the answer to our original question. Brown asbestos continued to be heavily used. Blue and brown asbestos were completely banned in 1985. White, which is considered the least dangerous type of asbestos, was fully banned in 1999. In hindsight, it’s easy to see it would have been much better if asbestos were banned earlier. But the evidence of the dangers of brown asbestos took much longer to emerge. And now, decades later, Australia and the UK are paying the price, with many people getting, and dying because of, mesothelioma. The new question may be ‘how many’? Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the organs which is caused almost exclusively by asbestos. The HSE released that in 2017, 2,523 people died from mesothelioma in the UK alone. More than half of these deaths were people over 75, and 82% of them were men. It is estimated that about that many people die from lung cancer caused by asbestos as well, but it is much harder to measure as lung cancers have many causes, which makes it hard to pinpoint which for that case, whereas mesothelioma has pretty much only one, asbestos. The Guardian analyzed data that was shared with them by the Royal College of Physicians. The Guardian found that NHS trusts which were in former industrial areas diagnosed the most mesothelioma cases from 2014 to 2016. The Northumbria Healthcare NHS foundation trust and University Hospital of Leicester NHS trust diagnosed 118 each during that period. Portsmouth and Leeds diagnosed 106 and 107 respectively. The analysis revealed the huge toll that the industrial past of Britain is now playing on the public health across the country. In North Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, and Sunderland, one in four deaths that were examined by coroners were caused by ‘industrial disease’. Jo Ritson is part of the asbestos victims’ support group. The group covers South Yorkshire and north Nottinghamshire. Ritson said that while demand for its services are going up, funding is still a struggle to find. In 2011 to 2012, the group saw 117 clients. Compare that to 298 clients in 2017-2018. And up to May of this year (2019), the group has seen 192 patients. Ritson said the reactions of her clients upon hearing they have mesothelioma varies. For some, it’s shocking. They find it hard to piece together that something they did as a young man in their 20s is now affecting them through a deadly disease. For others, they know it’s coming. They have seen colleagues die from it and they didn’t really know if and when it would come to them. A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said that ever since the dangers of asbestos became clear, governments have been making regulations. The spokesperson confirmed that they take mesothelioma very seriously, paying up to £92,000 depending on the persons age. That is $115,203. They also automatically pay the highest industrial injuries disablement benefit. There are many personal stories from mesothelioma patients. Here are just two. Mavis Nye, 78, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2009. She was diagnosed more than 50 years after she had been exposed to asbestos on her husband’s overalls. He would go to work, and come home with asbestos fibers all over his hair and clothes. To Mavis, it was just dust. She’d shake it off, and stick the overalls in the washing machine. And that’s it. Mavis is one of the many thousands of people around the world to be diagnosed with mesothelioma annually. Mavis said when you are first told you have mesothelioma, it doesn’t register. You can’t even say the word. Mavis’s husband, Ray, said while writing on the charity website Mesothelioma UK, “How do I feel about the fact that it was me who has given her this sentence? Gutted, destroyed, sick and, yes, guilty.” The next story is about a man named John Chapman. John was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2015. During that time he was preparing for the largest amateur cycling race in Europe, the Mallorca 312. He had been experiencing a lot of fatigue. He assumed that it was too much exercise and not enough recovery time, as he had cycled 6000 miles yearly. While John was visiting a lung specialist, the specialist asked him if he had been exposed to asbestos in the past. John replied yes. He had worked in a foundry for 10 years while he was younger. John was diagnosed with mesothelioma at age 54. Now he is 57 and has outlived many expectations. John says it is like being committed to “a death row sentence” since, based on statistics and life expectancies, you know there is a certain point you aren’t going to live past. “That,” he said “is the nature of the beast.” Now John only has one fifth of his lung capacity in his left lung and has a bone tumor the size of an Easter egg. Unfortunately, he says, pain is a part and parcel of his everyday life. John has a Macmillan nurse who comes and sees him. They are constantly tweaking his medication to try to offset the pain. Chapman and Nye are angry that they were exposed to the substance while people knew it was dangerous. But they are mainly concerned that it is still all around us. Nye says that even though it is banned, all the asbestos that was made is still around us. And those buildings are constantly being pulled down and refurbished, putting asbestos fibers all over the air. America doesn’t heavily use asbestos. But it did, at least somewhat heavily, in the past. Maybe not quite as much as the UK and Australia, but a lot. And soon, people will be paying for it. Since the 1960s, people have known that even small amounts of exposure to asbestos can cause respiratory diseases and mesothelioma. In America, sadly, asbestos isn’t banned. And it is all around buildings everywhere. Call us today at (312) 586-8713 for a free quote for asbestos removal and testing.

Leave a Reply