Latest Figures released by the Office of National Statistics reveal that 10,526 people in England and Wales have died of the asbestos related lung cancer, mesothelioma, since 2010, 2352 of these deaths were in 2014 alone.
The average rate of deaths per 100,000 across England for 2014 was 4.4. Areas home to the shipping industry and dock yards have seen the highest mesothelioma death rates, due to the heavy historic use of asbestos in ship yards.
Barrow – in – Furness had the highest rate of mesothelioma deaths across England, with an average death rate of 14.3 per 100,000. This was followed by south Tyneside with a rate of 11.1 and north Tyneside with 10.9. Newcastle upon Tyne, Fareham, Hartlepool, Portsmouth and Southampton also had rates much higher than the national average.
Asbestos was once regarded as a vital part of shipbuilding due to its low levels of corrosion and its heat resistant and fire preventing properties, which would be disastrous for a vessel at sea. Asbestos was therefore heavily used in the ship building industry to insulate pipework, boilers and compartments within the ships bulkheads and deck heads.
Other areas with industrial chemical production plants also have higher than average mesothelioma death rates, with Thurrock and Tamworth having a rate of 7.5 mesothelioma related deaths per 100,000 people.
Wales fared slightly better than England with an overall lower average of deaths per 100,000 of 3.1 However, local authorities, The Vale of Glamorgan and Torfaen had above UK average rates of 5.7 and 5.4 respectively.
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) campaigns for the rights of exposed workers and their families. President Jonathan Wheeler said: “Mesothelioma is a legacy of Britain’s industrial heritage. Thankfully, employers nowadays are more aware of the dangers of exposing workers to asbestos. But those who were exposed 30 or 40 years ago are now facing death sentences for simply turning up to work.
However, experts warn that this is just the tip of the iceberg, and that we may continue to see a rise in mesothelioma related deaths in areas not traditionally associated with heavy industry. Experts believe that thousands of white collar workers, a group previously deemed to be low risk, could be susceptible to asbestos related diseases, due to the widespread use of asbestos as a building material during the second half of the 20th Century. Office workers, doctors and teachers all could have disturbed and inhaled deadly asbestos dust from an act as simple as placing a pin in an asbestos filled wall.
Due to the nature of mesothelioma, many suffers may not experience any symptoms for anywhere between 15 – 50 years.
“When you are exposed to asbestos, the risk of becoming ill increases depending on the duration, frequency and the type of asbestos you’ve been exposed to.
“People often develop symptoms long after the exposure and do not always relate their illness to the original source exposure, which may have been through work many years earlier.
“Conditions such as pleural plaques, mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and pleural thickening can all be caused through exposure.
“If you suffer from one of these illnesses it is likely would have been exposed to asbestos.”