Hidden asbestos in homes causes risk of lung disease
Hidden asbestos in homes causes risk of lung disease
Geoffrey Newton, aged 81, formerly a leading orthopaedic Surgeon from Burton-on-Trent, died in May 2012 after developing Mesothelioma, a cancer of the lungs caused by exposure to asbestos.
Geoffrey was a very keen DIY enthusiast and spent years doing things around the home. He had even built his own boat and converted the family home into what is now from an old school house.
Leading up to his death, he was in the middle of fitting both a brand new kitchen and bathroom. He certainly didn’t let his age get in the way!
His wife Pat said, “‘He was brilliant at DIY. Nothing was ever too much of a challenge.”
It is believed that Mr Newton inhaled the deadly fibers when he was removing an old central heating boiler 37 years ago. The boiler contained lots of white asbestos.
His wife recalled, “It was 37 years ago, but I still remember all the white dust that came out with it. At the time, it was known that brown and blue asbestos were dangerous, but not white, so we assumed the dust was harmless.”
Experts warn that thousands of homeowners are putting themselves at risk, as they may disturb asbestos whilst making renovations to their homes and be completely unaware of the fact, until it’s too late.
The number of mesothelioma deaths are increasing
Numbers are increasing year on year for the number of people dying from mesothelioma. Infact, over the past 30 years the number of cases has quadrupled.
As the incubation period is quite a long time of up to 40 years, those people working with and exposed to asbestos in the 1970s will soon begin to display symptoms and be diagnosed, meaning there will be a peak in new cases now and in the next couple of years.
Dr John Moore-Gillon, an adviser to the British Lung Foundation (BLF) said, “Many people think that because asbestos stopped being used in industry many years ago, it’s no longer an issue. The problem today is that people can disturb asbestos in their homes without realising it is there. They embark on DIY projects, or hire a few local lads to do some demolition work without an initial survey — and unwittingly expose everyone to it.”
“Cases will continue to rise if precautions aren’t taken. What is worrying is that we barely have the resources to treat the condition, so if numbers continue to rise then there could be a huge strain in terms of treating everyone.”
He went on to say, “We don’t want to cause panic. It’s not the case that one fiber will kill you or that having a house with asbestos will put you at risk. It’s disturbing the asbestos that’s the problem. Usually, if it is found, the right thing is to seal it away and leave it alone. If the area needs to be demolished, then it can be, but with appropriate precautions.”
British Lung Foundation launches Campaign
The British Lung Foundation have launched a new campaign aimed at making people think about asbestos before carrying out any renovation works to their property, and to take any necessary precautions.
Asbestos has been widely used in the UK construction and shipbuilding industries since the late 1800’s due to it’s affordability, outstanding fire and heat resistance and sound absorption.
It can be found in older properties that have never been modernised in the form of old boilers, pipe insulation, roof tiles, floors, ceiling tiles and sprayed coatings.
The trading in and use of asbestos as a building material was banned in the year 2000, but the dangers have been known about since the late 1970’s.
Exposure to asbestos fibers causes Mesothelioma, a disease that affects the lining of the lungs. The survival rate is very low, and once a person is diagnosed they can expect to live no more than 3 years.
Asbestos exposure also causes lung cancer.
Dr Moore-Gillon said, “Asbestos fibers are very small and easy to inhale, and once in the lungs they seem to alter the way in which cells multiply and divide. It’s probable that asbestos alters DNA and increases the likelihood of producing cells of abnormal structure and function.”
It is mainly men who develop mesothelioma due to having worked in industry, but a small number of women can also develop the disease. And smokers are more at risk then those who don’t smoke.
Dr Moore-Gillon says, “The overwhelming majority will not be signs of mesothelioma, but it’s always worth mentioning to your doctor if you have, or suspect you may have, come into contact with asbestos.”
Unfortunately, as of yet there is no cure for mesothelioma, although it can be treated using radiotherapy and chemotherapy to control the symptoms.
The devastating effects of living with Mesothelioma
Geoffrey Newton died only 18 months after being diagnosed with mesothelioma.
His widow Pat said, “It was all very quick. He developed breathlessness, which turned out to be pleural effusion, a build-up of fluid in the lungs. From there mesothelioma was diagnosed.”
“He started off saying he wanted to book a train to Switzerland (to the Dignitas clinic), but then calmed down and did very well for 18 months after his diagnosis. He even insisted on fitting the kitchen and bathroom before he died. Even though he was frail, he got our daughter Sarah, who’s 37, to help with the heavy lifting.”
“It was all incredibly bad luck. We have friends who worked as ships engineers and were heavily exposed to it, but they are fine.”
A lot of people who are diagnosed with mesothelioma or asbestos related diseases will go onto claim compensation, but there are problems with this as Christine Winters explains:-
“The problem lies in the proof of where the individual was exposed to asbestos, because of the long latency period before the consequences present.”
“If work-related, the employer may no longer be trading or may not have had insurance for asbestos exposure.”
‘This will have a massive health impact in the future unless we can get the message across that the dangers of asbestos still exist.”
Duty holders and employers have a legal responsibility to manage asbestos in their building so as not to put employees at risk. Contact our Armco office for asbestos management and refurbishment/ demolition surveys on 0161 763 3727 or by visiting http://www.armco.org.uk/.