Action Mesothelioma Day 2019: (5 July)
Worldwide at least 38,000 people die every year from Mesothelioma, a fatal asbestos-related cancer. These deaths cause so much heartbreak and suffering. They leave huge holes in families; ones that can never be filled. Asbestos fibres are invisible to the naked eye, therefore it is so important for people to know where asbestos can be found, so these deaths can be prevented.
Taking place tomorrow, (5 July), Action Mesothelioma Day, brings together patients, carers, families and local dignitaries in Britain for services of remembrance and hope, commemorating the thousands of lives lost to Mesothelioma. The day is organised by Mesothelioma UK.
Asbestos related Cancer Deaths – Statistics
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) the number of Asbestos related Cancer deaths have continued to increase over recent years which reflect occupational exposures that occurred many years ago because there is a long time lag between exposure in most cases and the onset of the disease. The HSE expects deaths from Mesothelioma to continue to rise for the next four to five years. Asbestos was used very extensively all the way up to 1999 when it was finally banned in the UK so we have quite a stock of buildings with asbestos-containing materials in them. As well as people working in construction and related industries, Mesothelioma has claimed the lives of women who inhaled Asbestos dust as they washed their husband’s work clothes.
The tragic legacy of Asbestos means that someone dies every five hours in the UK and the World Health Organisation reports that Asbestos-related lung cancer, Mesothelioma and Asbestosis from occupational exposures results in well over 100,000 deaths a year worldwide.
At present no effective treatment or cure exists.
Those affected are workers from a wide range of industries and occupations. In the past construction workers, railway workers and ship yard workers were exposed in large numbers. People who have lived near asbestos factories in the past and families of workers who have unintentionally brought the deadly dust home on their work clothes and overalls have been affected.
With 100,000 tonnes of Asbestos containing materials still in buildings built before 2000, those tradesmen e.g. Buildings Maintenance workers, Plumbers, Electricians, Joiners, Gas fitters, Heating and Ventilation Engineers, IT and Telecommunications workers and others – working on and maintaining the buildings or carrying out alterations or installations etc., are the ones at risk today if safety precautions are not followed.
There is no safe threshold of exposure to asbestos fibres, meaning that inhalation of small quantities, even over a short period, can lead to Mesothelioma decades after exposure. Mesothelioma normally has a latency period of around 30–40 years.
Mesothelioma is a rare and incurable form of cancer, caused almost exclusively through the inhalation and retention of Asbestos fibres. The condition mostly affects those individuals who worked within roles that involved the use of Asbestos. However, it has also been known to affect individuals who spent many years employed within an Asbestos-contaminated environment.
Types of Asbestos
There are three main types of Asbestos – Blue, Brown and White. Blue is the most toxic but no type is safe. Many are still ignorant of the dangers of Asbestos and the cancers it can cause. At least three other types of Asbestos exist but were less commonly used. Fibres lay dormant in the lining of the lungs or abdomen and the slow growing cancer symptoms can appear 15 to 50 years after exposure has taken place. As Asbestos was thought of as a ‘miracle fibre’ because of its strong resistance to heat, fire and chemicals, it was used in a variety of materials and products in the home and industries throughout the UK, such as building and electrical insulation and mixed with cement, until the importation was finally banned.
The Asbestos Ban
In the UK, blue and brown Asbestos materials were banned outright in 1985 while the import, sale and second hand reuse of white Asbestos was outlawed in 1999 by the Tony Blair led Labour Government.
Asbestos related diseases
Embedded asbestos fibres irritate the lung tissue around them, causing a number of diseases:
- Pleural disease
Inflammation and irritation of the outer lining of the lung, the pleura. The pleura stiffens and thickens widely (diffuse thickening) or in patches (plaques), and can fill with fluid. This thickening can restrict breathing.
This is scarring of the lungs: the airways become so inflamed and scarred that oxygen is no longer able to pass from the lungs into the blood. The lungs become stiff and inelastic, making breathing progressively difficult. Symptoms include tightness in the chest, dry cough, and in the later stages, a bluish tinge to the skin caused by lack of oxygen. Asbestosis is usually seen in former asbestos miners, asbestos manufacturing workers and insulation workers, and usually takes a decade or more to develop.
- Lung cancer
Exposure to asbestos fibres greatly increases a person’s risk of developing lung cancer, particularly if they are also a smoker.
Mesothelioma is a cancer of the pleura. It typically grows quickly and spreads widely before symptoms appear, making its early diagnosis and effective treatment very difficult. The average survival time after diagnosis is only 6-18 months. A very small exposure to asbestos can be enough to trigger the cancer, however, only a small percentage of people exposed to asbestos develop mesothelioma. There may be a lag of 20 to 40 years after asbestos exposure before mesothelioma results.
Employers are legally bound to survey, identify and manage or remove Asbestos- containing materials in their buildings and those employing workers must find out if Asbestos-containing materials are present and plan the work to avoid disturbing these materials and exposing workers. Workers should stop and ask if they are unsure or are suspicious that something may be Asbestos or if you think the work might need to be carried out by a licensed contractor. They should follow the plan of work and work method statement and safe system of work making sure they have been properly trained and informed before they start. Further detailed information and advice is available from the CWU HQ Health, Safety & Environment Department, Health and Safety Executive and Local Authority Environmental Health Departments.
You can get involved in Action Mesothelioma Day too by:
- Dowloading information for awareness raising from the Mesothelioma(UK) Website https://www.mesothelioma.uk.com/
- Downloading and distributing IOSH NTTL free resources, to raise awareness https://www.iosh.com/more/our-influence/our-policy-positions/iosh-asbestos-policy-position-june-2018/
Many thanks for your continued support – CWU supporting campaigns to beat occupational cancer.
National Health, Safety & Environment Officer