The prevalence of asbestos, which was used as an inexpensive insulator and fire retardant material throughout most of the twentieth century, meant no industry was likely to be untouched by its’ presence.
A recent news story concerning an employee who worked at a power station where large cooling towers containing asbestos were present, and who died less than two weeks after diagnosis of mesothelioma was confirmed, highlights the continuing tragic legacy of asbestos use.
It was a combination of deliberate disregard or a simple lack of asbestos awareness to the fatal health risks of constant exposure and breathing in of the fibre dust particles that led to many thousands of workers to ultimately become victims to asbestosis diseases.
Until the banning of asbestos as a building material in the 1980s, asbestos was most commonly installed as inner “fill” material in thin, layered sheets of asbestos cement, laggings and coatings in both the domestic, commercial and industrial building industry. Large scale construction included ship building, oil refineries, nuclear reactors, power stations and cooling towers.
It was especially dangerous within cooling towers as it was possible for the evaporation of water from the tower to release asbestos fibres into the surrounding atmosphere. The risk was increased if the asbestos material had been damaged or disintegrating after a period of time.
The former worker at the power station had been employed for just two years during the mid-1960s and had actually handled the material without any protective clothing by helping to mix and apply the asbestos lagging with his bare hands. In addition, the worker had been involved in clearing up the site after three of the cooling towers collapsed after severe weather.
However, there is a long gestation period of between 15 to 50 years from when the asbestos fibres are inhaled and the first appearance of asbestosis symptoms. Usually, the disease is only discovered in the latter stages when it has spread to adjacent areas of the body and the survival rate from confirmed diagnosis is 6 months to one year.
Over forty years after the original asbestos exposure, the former power station worker, was diagnosed with mesothelioma at the age of 85, but only lived another two weeks.
As is the case with so many unfortunate victims of asbestos- related disease, it was left to the remaining family members to work with their asbestosis lawyer to pursue mesothelioma compensation. Damages of nearly £50,000 were eventually awarded after tracking down the original company employer who admitted a breach of duty of care.