Action Mesothelioma Day is held annually with the aim of increasing public awareness of the persistent dangers of asbestos.
There are many organisations seeking to disseminate the same message, including a number of very active national and regional campaign groups. We were proud to attend the event at Leicester Cathedral on 6 July 2018 organised by Mesothelioma UK. Mesothelioma UK are a leading national charity whose aim is to support the NHS to drive up standards and ensure equitable access to world class treatment, trials and care for those affected by mesothelioma.
What is mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a cancer of the mesothelium – the thin membrane that lines the chest and abdomen (tummy) and surrounds the organs in these parts of the body. The mesothelium has different names depending on where it’s located in the body. A cancer of any mesothelium is called a malignant mesothelioma, but is more usually referred to simply as ‘mesothelioma’.
Mesothelioma is incurable and is inevitably fatal – death usually occurs within 12-18 months of diagnosis.
This high death rate is due in part to the fact that mesothelioma symptoms don’t usually develop until many years after the initial exposure to asbestos. It can take around 10-20 years before any symptoms of mesothelioma become ‘clinically manifest’ but it can be as long as 50 years before symptoms become apparent. Once diagnosed, it is usually too late for anything other any palliative treatment.
What are the symptoms of mesothelioma?
The symptoms of mesothelioma can include:
- Breathlessness or difficulty in breathing
- Pain in the chest
- Chest feels heavy and dull or aching (especially when you breathe)
- Weight loss
- Fever and sweating (especially at night)
- Hoarseness (caused by pressure on the nerve that supplies the voice box)
- Persistent cough that doesn’t go away
These symptoms do not prove that you definitely have mesothelioma – they can be caused by several other conditions – but if you do experience any of them, especially if they don’t go away after a couple of weeks, you should see your GP immediately.
Mesothelioma in numbers
The definite causal link between mesothelioma and asbestos has been established for many years. Around 2,500 people die each year from mesothelioma in England and Wales. The overall national mortality rate for England is 4.51 per 100,000 people.
Mesothelioma is not just a problem of the past
Most people might assume that mesothelioma is a disease of the past, given that the two most dangerous types of asbestos (blue crocidolite and brown amosite) have been banned for import and use in the UK since 1985, with white chrysotile asbestos banned since 1999. Surely cases will begin to tail off?
The Health and Safety Executive predicts that there will continue to be around 2,500 mesothelioma deaths each year until the end of the present decade, when the mortality rate will start to decline. But, even with a predicted ‘decline’ in the mortality rate, the legacy of asbestos will mean many thousands more deaths over the decades to come as instances of fatal asbestos-related disease decrease only very gradually.
Secondary or environmental exposure to asbestos
What is noticeable is the growing number of cases of ‘secondary or environmental exposure’, with some people today contracting an asbestos-related illnesses without ever having worked in perceived ‘high risk’ industries or occupations.
These cases may involve:
- People who did not work with asbestos directly, but were close to others who did – for example, wives who may have been exposed while washing their husband’s contaminated overalls
- Those living close to factories
- Plumbers, electricians or decorators who may have been exposed to asbestos when doing refurbishment work, for example in schools
Asbestos in schools and other public buildings
Schools built or refurbished and extended between 1945 and 1985 are likely to contain large amounts of asbestos. However, any school built, refurbished or that had maintenance work carried out up to 2001 could also contain asbestos. If the school (or indeed any public building) was built before 1985 it is highly probable that it was constructed using a ‘system build’ approach adopted by many local authorities and contains asbestos in one form or another.
The National Union of Teachers say that at least 319 teachers have died because of their exposure to asbestos fibres at school since 1980, 205 of those since 2001. A raft of other statistics continue to indicate that the issue is very current.
Sharine Burgess, senior associate solicitor at Shoosmiths, said:
‘Mesothelioma is devastating for those suffering with the disease and their families. Despite the health risks associated with asbestos and strict regulations regarding its use, people are still being exposed to it and put at risk. It is therefore essential that the risk posed by asbestos in the present day is highlighted and those affected by it receive advice and support.’
If you or a family member has been diagnosed with mesothelioma or affected by an asbestos-related illness, you may be able to make a claim for compensation. Our specialist solicitors are here to provide legal advice and support.
For more information and for a free no obligation consultation, please contact Sharine Burgess on 03700 863423 or e-mail [email protected]
Or visit our mesothelioma website page for more information.