Action Mesothelioma Day is a chance to remember the more than 2500 people who died of this disease last year in the UK.
We should also think about the similar number who will die this year and in the future. The current estimate is that mesothelioma deaths will peak in the UK within the next 5 years but previous estimates have been wrong, usually based upon a combination of the dates of importation of asbestos until banned and the perceived average latency period for the disease.
Although blue and brown asbestos were banned and ceased to be used from 1985, white asbestos, chrysotile, continued to be imported and sold until 1999. It is this type of asbestos used in products like “asbestolux” that was widely used in the 1980’s as a fireproofing board material in schools, shops and offices.
Many of the cases we see nowadays are from carpenters and suspended ceiling tile fitters who cut this asbestos board either by hand or using powered saws. Electricians who cut into the board and ran cables in the suspended asbestos ceilings or ducts are also at risk.
The latency period for the disease was generally thought to be up to 50 years from exposure. However we are seeing many older victims because general life expectation has increased. In the past they would have died of other causes before the development of the disease. I currently have a 92 year old client and the reality may be that this disease has no upper latency limit.
Sadly there are also an increasing number of younger victims appearing as school pupil cases. The lower latency period is 15 years and studies have shown that younger people, still developing physically, are more at risk of mesothelioma. The exposure to asbestos in classrooms is the result of the decision to put in place a system build programme for local authority schools that used asbestolux as a material for walls, frames and ventilation ducts. Most of that material is still in place and continues to pose a risk.
There is no cure for mesothelioma and it is vital that research is supported to seek an effective treatment. With the continued importation of asbestos to developing countries it is unlikely that we will see a peak to the number of deaths worldwide to this disease anytime soon, even if asbestos was finally banned globally before the next AMD.