Up until the 1970s and 80s, countless products were manufactured every day in the UK using asbestos as an inexpensive insulation and fire retardant material.

Key regions of manufacturing, construction and heavy engineering, including shipbuilding and vehicle assembly, became known as ‘blackspots’ for contracting asbestosis disease and the incurable mesothelioma, a cancer mostly affecting the linings (pleura) of the lungs or the abdomen.

Among the blackspots, predominantly in north east England, were South Tyneside, Hartlepool, Sunderland, Stockton-on-Tees and Redcar and Cleveland. However, many other industrial areas existed where asbestos was used to manufacture cement, textiles, friction, insulation and soundproofing materials.

Major asbestos manufacturing works in the north and Midlands during the 1970s include:

  • Stirling, Glasgow, Livingston : Asbestos cement / insulation and soundproofing.
  • Durham, West Auckland, Kentmere : Asbestos cement / insulation and soundproofing.
  • Hebden Bridge, Cleckheaton, Batley : Textiles / Friction materials.
  • Bolton, Rochdale, Ditton, Widnes: Textiles / Insulation / Asbestos cement.
  • Trafford Park, Chapel-on-le-Frith : Friction and other asbestos materials.
  • Tamworth, Birmingham, Wellingborough, Meldreth : Asbestos cement / Textiles / Insulation.

In areas such as Gwent in Wales, as throughout the UK, asbestos-containing materials (ACMs), such as insulation and soundproofing, were used by the construction industry in the building of both residential and commercial properties right up until the late 1990s.

Although the most lethal forms of asbestos had been banned, chrysotile white asbestos continued to be used in items such as wallboards, cement, and textured coatings until legislation was introduced in 1998.

Employer disregard and a lack of asbestos awareness to the fatal health risks, exposed thousands of workers who daily breathed in the deadly fibres. However, it can take between 15 to 50 years before the first signs of mesothelioma or asbestosis symptoms emerge, and life expectancy for an elderly patient from a confirmed diagnosis is often less than 6 months.

Between 1980 and 2005, over 2,000 people continued to die from mesothelioma across the North-East, and over 150 deaths recorded in the Welsh areas of Newport, Caerphilly, Torfaen, Monmouthshire and Blaenau Gwent.

Currently more than 2,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma annually in the UK and the number of claims for asbestos compensation have more than doubled from 574 in 2007 to 1,164 in 2010. It is predicted that fatalities from asbestos-related disease will continue to rise to reach over 60,000 in the first half of the 21st century.