It was only 12 months ago that research into the occupational, domestic and environmental risks of mesothelioma, undertaken by the Institute of Cancer Research on behalf of the HSE (Health and Safety Executive), and the largest study of its kind to date, discovered the death rate from mesothelioma in the UK to be the highest in the world.

Yet only recently, media focus was once again attempting to cast doubt on the statistical evidence for the present dangers of exposure to asbestos products in the workplace. For the many thousands of asbestosis sufferers who are at the beginning, or are in the process of making a mesothelioma claim or trying to obtain asbestos compensation, the adverse airing of misinformation is obstructive.

The actual number of deaths from mesothelioma in the UK each year is recorderd to be in the region of 2,100, of which five times as many males are affected as females. The research, which recorded detailed life histories from 622 mesothelioma patients, shows that the risk of developing mesothelioma is mostly determined by the extent of asbestos exposure experienced before the age of 30.

Substantial quantities of asbestos were used in the construction industry between 1960 and 1980, much which is still in place in properties which are being regularly maintained or renovated. There is therefore, a significant potential ongoing risk of contracting mesothelioma by builders and related trades working in this environment, ranging from a lifetime risk of 1 in 17 for 10 or more years before the age of 30, to 1 in 1,000 not exposed to asbestos.

The results of the study provided an overall prediction that of the total anticipated deaths from mesothelioma in the UK between 1970 and 2050, approximately 15,000 will be carpenters. The study found that the risks of lung cancer were similar. The evidence relates to UK carpenters who frequently use asbestos insulation board containing brown asbestos.

According to the report, the UK was the largest importer of brown asbestos, or amosite, and it is thought, following strong although indirect evidence, that this may explain the exceptionally high rate of mesothelioma in this country. By contrast, the US imported far less amosite but used similar amounts of white asbestos, or chrysotile, and more blue asbestos, or chrocidolite. As a result, mortality rates from mesothelioma in the US are approximately 3 to 5 times less than in the UK.

The widespread absence of asbestos awareness training or effective controls of dust levels meant that the use of power tools to cut boarding made of asbestos created a serious and fatal risk until the 1980s.

The report also concluded that the increasing mortality rate in women and the greater rate as compared with the US suggested that a large percentage of cases of mesothelioma with no known cause were probably due to environmental asbestos exposure from industrial and construction activities.