The announcement that a full asbestos survey is to be conducted alongside planned renovations of the apartment at Kensington Palace where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate Middleton are to reside is a reminder that asbestos material is a deadly time capsule which still lies buried in some half a million properties around the UK.
It was back in 1960 when asbestos was widely used in UK manufacturing, engineering and the building industry that the last major renovation of Kensington Palace took place – a quarter of a century before the first asbestos ban was introduced. However, the white chrysotile form still continued to be used in insulation board, textured ceiling coatings, cement products and floor tiles right up until the end of the twentieth century.
Asbestos awareness within the building industry continues to be a major problem as week after week, court cases are reported of contractors failing to identify and then incorrectly and illegally disposing of asbestos when it is regularly found during property renovations or demolition.
There is an exceptionally long gestation period of between 15 to 50 years after asbestos fibres are originally inhaled and the first appearance of mesothelioma cancer or asbestosis symptoms. This means that there are still many men and women who were first exposed to asbestos at their place of work from the 1960s and 70s who continue to fall victim to asbestos-related disease. From 1968 onwards, the number of deaths from mesothelioma was over 32,000, reaching nearly 60,000 by 2008.
Just recently, a 78 year old retired ambulance technician who began working as a bricklayer aged 14 died some 40 years after he was thought to have been exposed to asbestos during his 6 year apprenticeship. An “extensive tumour” confirmed as malignant mesothelioma was found in the lung cavity which had spread into the abdominal cavity and heart membrane.
A 56 year old electrician’s mate who was employed at an open mine foundry 30 years previously, has recently been diagnosed with a less aggressive form of mesothelioma and is undertaking a course of chemotherapy.
In another recent example of the long period of time that can elapse from first exposure to the emergence of symptoms, a 72 year old housewife who attended a local Primary School from the age of 7, between 1945 and 1949, inhaled asbestos dust which covered the school grounds and used to be picked up and thrown around. The asbestos fibre-containing dust was emitted from an extractor fan at a nearby mill which manufactured asbestos products up until the 1970s.
Detecting asbestosis symptoms at an early stage is vital. The typical survival rate from confirmed diagnosis is around 6 to 12 months and currently there is a three year period, within which to submit a mesothelioma claim.