Asbestos: Britain's Women

Asbestos: Britain's Women

Women in the UK are more likely than those in any other nation to be diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer caused by asbestos dust.

At least 400 women in the UK are dying from the disease every year, according to new figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

This is more than twice the rate of diagnoses in other developed nations, including France, Germany and the US.

The use of asbestos is now banned in more than 50 countries and its removal is an expensive and specialised procedure.

Asbestos comes in six forms and is the known cause of the rare cancer with the blue and brown varieties considered the most dangerous. It is cheap, strong, fire-resistant and flexible. It was most widely used in the 1940s and commonly used in homes, schools and factories.

The amount of women affected by mesothelioma and who have died from the disease has been increasing. Since 2008 around 1,200 women have died due to secondary exposure to asbestos and environmental factors.

Lyons Davidson law firm specialises in mesothelioma and asbestos related claims for compensation.

Ginny Chalmers, Head of Industrial Disease at the law firm said: "We have represented an increasing number of women suffering from mesothelioma over the last few years. Mesothelioma is the cancer of most rapidly increasing incidence in women. "These women have been exposed to asbestos dust from hospitals, husbands or fathers."

Committee on Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COC) member and risk specialist from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Professor Julian Peto said: "We have found whilst doing our most recent study that the cause for most women who have mesothelioma was not just secondary exposure but environmental exposure as well. That begins when a person is born."

Environmental factors such as asbestos in buildings have contributed to British female rates of mesothelioma to be the highest in the world.

Professor Peto said: "Asbestos in buildings have made a huge contribution to the British mesothelioma death rate.

"This raises the issue of asbestos in schools. Half the females suffering from mesothelioma could have been due to asbestos in schools," he added.

An FOI request received from the HSE which produces the latest available statistics for mesothelioma rates has revealed that the worst affected age group for females is 70-74, those born in the late 1930s early 1940s, with over 190 women diagnosed since 2008.

Mavis Nye is 72 and has mesothelioma from washing her husband's clothes.

Ray Nye worked in Chatham dockyard as a shipwright. He then moved to British Eurolite for six months where he also worked closely with asbestos.

Mrs Nye said: "Ray had worked with the asbestos when I was 20 for about two years and we always knew he might become ill because of it but not me. We never considered I was in danger.

Mrs Nye was told she was diagnosed with cancer caused by secondary exposure to asbestos 28 years later.

She said: "They were never told what they were working with was dangerous. They even played with it. I washed his clothes when he came home from work.

It took me over 28 years to be diagnosed. The longer it's in there the worse it is. It's really got a hold by then. You don't know until your lungs have filled with fluid. They don't do any scanning before that and by then it's too late."

Mrs Nye is one of the many thousands of women who have been affected by secondary exposure to asbestos fibres around the country.

The death rate for females suffering from mesothelioma is highest in the South East of England with 207 deaths since 2008. It is lowest in Wales with just 48 deaths.

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) says that in the South East, the asbestos hotspot is Hampshire. In the county, Eastleigh, Southampton and Gosport all have high numbers of people diagnosed with mesolthelioma. This all reflects the high exposure to asbestos in the area due to shipbuilding and repairs.

Despite a ban on asbestos in the UK since 1985, new cases of mesothelioma have been increasing and a worrying number of women, like Mrs Nye, are dying from the disease each year.


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