Britain’s death toll from asbestos at crisis level, figures reveal
The death toll from asbestos exposure has reached crisis levels in Britain, the Guardian has learned, as people pay the price for “criminal failings by industry and government” made decades ago.
Asbestos-related cancers can occur as many as 50 years after exposure and deaths are now thought to be reaching their peak, years after the widespread industrial use of the carcinogen between the 1950s and 70s.
According to figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) released this week, in 2017 there were 2,523 deaths from mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the organs caused almost exclusively by the inhalation of asbestos fibres. This is a similar number to the previous five years.
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Rates of mesothelioma, which is almost always fatal, nearly doubled between 1995, when there were 1,317 cases, and 2017. More than half of deaths from mesothelioma were people over 75 and 82% were men.
It is estimated that a similar number of people die from asbestos-related lung cancers, but this cannot be so accurately measured as establishing a cause for lung cancer is more difficult.
The HSE predicts that annual numbers will continue at current levels for the rest of this decade before starting to decline, though it has previously anticipated earlier falls.
Asbestos, a naturally occurring fibrous mineral, was widely used in the UK as insulation and a fire retardant. The import and use of blue and brown asbestos was banned in 1985, while white asbestos, which is thought to be less dangerous, was banned in 1999.
Deaths from mesothelioma are high among people who worked in the shipbuilding and construction industries – especially carpenters, plumbers and electricians – as well as those who worked in factories that produced asbestos products.
Roger Maddocks, a partner with the law firm Irwin Mitchell LLP who specialises in workplace injuries and illness, said: “In many cases people are now paying the price for criminal failings by industry and the government, who were responsible for the lack of action on the part of the Factory Inspectorate [the precursor to the HSE].”Read the full story here
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