Bulletins

Mesothelioma and Asbestos related conditions – Yesterday’s exposure. Today’s disease.

January 28, 2019

Asbestos was banned for industrial use or import some 29 years ago.  However, asbestos related press reports from all over the country still appear on a daily basis.

If you have been diagnosed with an asbestos related disease in the last 3 years and wish to consider making a claim for compensation for you and/or your family, contact our specialist asbestos disease compensation team here at Metcalfes Solicitors for advice.

Asbestos related deaths – Ipswich Town Footballer

BBC news reported in November of last year on the tragic death of former Ipswich Town footballer, Colin Harper, who died aged 71 in a hospice in Suffolk from mesothelioma (a type of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos).  Harper played for his club for 11 years from 1966 to 1977.   He was part of the legendary football manager, Bobby Robson’s team that won promotion from the Second Division and then competed in Europe.

Hazardous work

Harper was exposed to asbestos before becoming a professional footballer when he worked as an apprentice joiner and carpenter.  Part of his job, it emerged at the inquest into his death, was to cut asbestos with a circular saw.  The Coroner noted that in doing this job it generated a considerable amount of dust, which was impossible to avoid.  It was also noted that his employers did not provide Mr Harper with a facemask, nor was he warned of the dangers to his health that working with asbestos entailed.

His death illustrates a key feature of asbestos disease, and explains why asbestos disease compensation claims are still being brought in such great numbers, so long after asbestos’s ban.

Asbestos is a disease that takes an awful long time to develop

Many would think that a young man, exposed to so much asbestos that it ultimately led to his death, wouldn’t be able to have a distinguished professional football career at such a high level.  Some may ask why was he not affected sooner by the asbestos exposure he received? Surely it would have prevented him from being fit enough to play a such a high level?

The answer lies in the delayed development of asbestos disease: from exposure to asbestos dust and fibres, through symptoms of illness developing and, in many cases, death, can take many decades.   This delay is often called the ‘Latency Period’.

The ‘Latency Period’

Asbestos disease has a long Latency Period.  After asbestos fibres have been inhaled, they remain trapped in the lungs.  The most damaging forms of asbestos, amosite (known as Brown asbestos) and crocidolite (Blue asbestos) produce dust fibres that in effect are barbed (a little like fishing hooks).   Expelling them from the lungs is not easily achieved if at all possible.  The barbs on the fibres prevent this.  The form of asbestos called chrysotile (known as White asbestos) produces fibres that are more needle-like in appearance and they can be expelled from the lungs to a lesser or greater degree by coughing.  This is the reason why White asbestos is considered less deadly than the other two types mentioned.  It is still not safe to use.

Brown, Blue and White asbestos

When Blue or Brown asbestos fibres are inhaled, they often have initially little or no impact on the body.  Eventually though, the scarring that the fibres cause, will start to have an effect on the health of the person who inhaled them.  It takes at least 10 years before the symptoms of Mesothelioma start to make the person affected feel unwell.  As was the case with Mr Harper, the Latency Period lasted much longer.  It can take as many as 50 or 60 years, before the symptoms of asbestos related disease start to be seen.

Mr Harper will have probably felt absolutely no effects from his exposure to asbestos in his youth.  He would have been extremely fit.

Deaths from Asbestos disease are at an all-time high.

The latest HSE statistics concerning deaths from asbestos disease cover the year 2016.  They reveal that there were 2,595 reported deaths from mesothelioma and an estimated similar number from asbestos related lung cancer.  Add to this the figures for those that died from asbestosis and another asbestos related condition, pleural thickening, and the overall figure for deaths from asbestos disease for the period, is well over 5,000.  That is an average of 10 deaths per day from asbestos related diseases, the causes of which are rooted in the decades of 1950 through to 1980. 

Average of 10 deaths per day from asbestos related diseases

These figures seem incredible, but as explained in relation to Colin Harpers case, the reason for such high figures, is due to the long period that may pass between exposure, symptoms and then diagnosis.

Once mesothelioma and asbestos related lung cancer have been diagnosed, life expectancy is unfortunately short.  This is particularly the case for the incurable disease of mesothelioma, where life expectancy is often no more than 12 months.

Will the Asbestos related death rate decline?

It is thought that we may be at the peak of the number of deaths from asbestos disease. Indeed, given all that we know about the periods when asbestos exposure was most rife in the UK and the subsequent banning of asbestos, it would appear that in a few more years, the mortality rates from asbestos should start to drop.  However, ten years ago experts forecast that by now rates would have been in steady decline already.  That has not been the case.

Is Asbestos Disease an industrial illness?

 Asbestos Disease is classified as an industrial or occupational illness because most asbestos disease victims suffered exposure in the workplace. Some particular industries were considered higher risk occupations than others.

The most at risk occupations in the UK included;

  • Shipbuilding and shipyard workers
  • Carpenters
  • Plumbers
  • Boilermakers
  • Power Station Workers
  • Railway engineering workers
  • Seamen
  • Car mechanics
  • Construction workers
  • Factory workers
  • Firemen
  • Steelworkers

However, this list is by no means exhaustive.  For instance, there have recently been a number of widely read reports of school teachers who have died from asbestos disease.  This has received the publicity it has because it has raised awareness of the fact that asbestos exposure was not confined to those working in heavy industry.  Many schools were constructed in an era where asbestos was used as a building material.  For more information about asbestos in schools see our article here.

Why are asbestos disease compensation claims being brought so long after people were exposed to asbestos?

Although exposure to asbestos took place many years ago, the general time limit for making an asbestos compensation claim is 3 years from the date a person is diagnosed with asbestos disease. 

Making a claim for compensation

If you have recently been diagnosed with an asbestos related disease and wish to consider making a claim for compensation for you and/or your family, contact our specialist asbestos disease compensation team here at Metcalfes Solicitors.  You will find our team friendly and empathetic to the difficult position you now find yourself in and we can advise on how to support you and your family at this distressing time.

Call us on 0117 929 0451 to discuss in absolute confidentiality.  Alternatively, please complete our enquiry form at the top of this page.  Someone from our team will call you back promptly. 

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Mesothelioma and Asbestos related conditions – Yesterday’s exposure.  Today’s disease.

Hugh Balchin

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