Asbestos is a killer. In fact, it’s the biggest work-related killer in the UK, with the HSE reporting an average of 20 deaths per week from asbestos-related illness. In total, 2,291 deaths are recorded annually in the UK as a direct result of mesothelioma, a type of cancer that develops in the tissue that covers the surface of the lungs and the abdomen.
In the US, the figures aren’t any better. 4,800 patients are diagnosed with asbestos-related cancer, with a further 3,000 developing mesothelioma. From 1999 to 2010, there was an average 12.8 deaths per million people due to asbestos. At the top of the list was Maine, which exceeded the average by almost double with 22.5 deaths per million annually.
With the rate of asbestos deaths at its peak, here are the facts that you need to know.
What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a mineral with thin, fibrous crystals. It’s been mined for 4,000 years, and for the greater part of the 20th century was commonly used as building insulation and household fire-proofing.
The danger of asbestos is that its fibres are so thin that they are invisible when airborne, and are easily inhaled, which damages the lungs.
There are three basic types of asbestos:
- Crocidolite (blue fibres)
- Amosite (brown fibres)
- Chrysotile (white fibres)
There have been some scientific debates pressing that blue and brown fibres asbestos is more toxic than white, though the consensus has generally been that all types of asbestos are carcinogenic.
Legislation has been passed banning asbestos in the UK, but unfortunately it is still technically legal in the US, despite the damage it does.
What Asbestos Does
The long-term effects of asbestos exposure are devastating. In the vast majority of cases, something called “pneumoconiosis” – a disease of the lungs characterised by inflammation due to irritation – is caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibres.
This can be especially harmful for smokers, as it’s known to vastly increase the likelihood of lung cancer in conjunction to smoking.
Asbestos has also been linked with ovarian, laryngeal and gastrointestinal cancers.
One of the main problems with asbestosis is that is has a latency period of 20-30 years generally, with some cases being reported over 40 years after original exposure. This is a major issue because it means that by the time the asbestosis is properly diagnosed, there’s no specific treatment available.
What You Can Do
The sectors of industry that are at most risk include any sectors to do with home renovation – plumbers, electricians and interior decorators in particular – and commercial construction.
If you believe you are at risk of asbestos exposure, talk to your employer and your safety representative. It’s also worth getting in touch with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to let them know your situation.
If your employer isn’t taking the appropriate safety measures to tackle asbestos exposure, seek legal help. It’s important that you and your family aren’t put at risk.
Bio: Linda Williams works forCarrs Solicitors, a legal agency based in the UK that specialises in helping victims of work-related accidents claim the compensation they deserve.