Attending this year’s Action Mesothelioma Day event in London, organised by the London Hazards Centre was, as ever, a sad reminder of the awful legacy left by asbestos in this country. The widespread use of the mineral, particularly between the 1960’s and 1980’s, has resulted in the needless loss of many thousands of lives, mainly through occupational exposure to asbestos dust and fibres. At Friday’s event, doves were released in remembrance of those who have lost their lives to this terrible illness.
Action Mesothelioma Day is an annual commemorative event to highlight the plight of sufferers of this aggressive form of cancer which develops in the membrane of the lungs and abdomen and which is specifically linked to the inhalation of microscopic asbestos fibres. The illness for which there is currently no cure, usually takes many decades to develop. The event allows sufferers and their families, support groups and other organisations to join together to remember all those affected by the disease and to raise awareness of the illness, which typically takes decades to manifest in symptoms.
Action Mesothelioma day also provides a forum for those campaigning for a worldwide ban on asbestos, something which, sadly, still seems remote with only 50 UN member states having banned the substance but 200 who have yet to do so. Some of these are still mining and exporting asbestos to other countries.
We learned from Linda Reinstein, President and Co-founder of Asbestos Disease Awareness Organisation in the US, that asbestos is still being used in the US. The US refuses to recommend the listing of crysotile (white) asbestos as a hazardous substance under the Rotterdam Convention, which provides for notification of hazards in trade between nations. In 2015, given what we know of the dangers the mineral poses, this is surely a scandal and an issue of deep concern and shame as innocent people continue to be exposed to the potentially deadly fibres.
Though crysotile was finally banned in the UK in 1999, the danger still exists as it remains in many of our buildings. Those involved in the construction industry are among those most at risk of developing an asbestos-related illness. There are still over £2,500 recorded deaths per annum in the UK as a result of mesothelioma and estimated future predictions have again been revised so that numbers are not now expected to peak until 2020.
Sadly, even those who have been exposed to small amounts of the dust, such as teachers working in school buildings containing asbestos, are at risk of developing mesothelioma. The problem of asbestos in UK schools (this affects around 80% of UK school buildings) was another issue under discussion at Friday’s event and is the subject of much lobbying of the new government. The problem has become chronic due to cuts in funding of schools by previous administrations meaning that some schools have been unable to maintain their buildings or have the asbestos removed due to the cost involved. Until this issue is effectively addressed by government, staff and pupils remain at risk.
Action Mesothelioma Day also highlights the need for increased funding for research into treatment for the illness, which research receives minimal funding compared with other types of cancer. The British Lung Foundation estimates that around 60,000 people in Britain will die over the next 30 years from mesothelioma, unless a cure can be found.
The Asbestos Victims Charter for Justice quotes another startling fact that asbestos remains the single biggest cause of work related deaths. The changes outlined in the charter will make a real difference – it has my support.