Action Mesothelioma Day 2011 took place on Friday 1st July. Hundreds of asbestosis disease sufferers and their families came together at events staged at UK regional areas of former industrial and manufacturing asbestos use, including Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, Leeds and Plymouth to warn of a growing asbestos crisis.

Held annually, key groups and organisations from the medical, legal and caring professions also attend to help with continuing to raise asbestos awareness. Every year, 2,000 men and women are diagnosed with mesothelioma and asbestos-related diseases. Subsequently, and with perhaps only a few months left to live, victims and their families apply to receive mesothelioma compensation, as a result of original exposure between 15 to 50 years earlier at their workplace or secondary exposure at home.

Once again, the key message was the continued risk of asbestos exposure, and the British Lung Foundation mounted a media campaign themed as ‘Be Asbestos Aware’, which continued with last year’s warning of the dangers of asbestos in the home when carrying out DIY renovations.

Various campaigners and union speakers warned of an impending crisis as a direct result of the government decision to halt the Health and Safety Executive’s successful Hidden Killer campaign. Cuts to the body’s funding by 35 per cent are expected
to lead to a reduction in safety inspections in many areas including the education sector.

It is estimated that more than 70 per cent of Britain’s school buildings contain asbestos, which claims the lives of 16 teachers each year through low-level contamination. Joint Union Asbestos Campaign chairwoman Julie Winn said: “In the past 30 years, almost 230 teachers have died of mesothelioma … more than 60 per cent of those deaths have occurred in the last decade”.

There were also serious concerns raised over governmental failures to apply safeguards to social housing and plans to allow tenants to undertake their own repairs. According to mesothelioma sufferer, John Shiers, who led a campaign in the early 1980s about the dangers of asbestos in the Hulme flats in Manchester where he lived, “ We had to campaign to get information about asbestos and for the dangers of asbestos to be taken seriously … thirty years later, tenants are still not told where asbestos is in their homes despite the dangers of disturbing asbestos.”

Asbestos Victims Support Groups Forum chairman Tony Whitston added: “Low-level exposures to asbestos can cause mesothelioma. Government policy is putting maintenance workers, tenants and school staff and children at risk. It is unforgivable for government to repeat the policy mistakes of the past which have caused so many deaths. The Hidden Killer campaign should be reinstated and action taken urgently to protect tenants, school staff and children.”

Amongst the many events held around the country to mark the important day, a special memorial was held in Plymouth – a national ‘hotspot’ for mesothelioma. Organised by the South West Mesothelioma Group – based at the Macmillan Mustard Tree Cancer Support Centre, Derriford Hospital – patients, relatives and friends gathered at Saltram House to lay a single-stemmed flower by a tree, which was planted in memory of patients who were victims of the incurable mesothelioma.