It’s not often realised in today’s health and safety conscious world that secondary exposure to asbestos was a hidden danger to family members in many households before asbestos awareness of the fatal health risks became better known.
A recent case in West Yorkshire where six out of eight family members suffered secondary asbestos exposure highlights the continuing legacy of twentieth century use of the deadly material, which saw nearly two and half thousand deaths from mesothelioma in the UK as recently as 2008.
Two daughters aged just in their 60s, whose father worked at an asbestos product processing plant from the 1930s up until retirement in the late 1950s, died within 6 months of each other from the incurable asbestos cancer, mesothelioma.
Of the remaining siblings, aged between 64 and 78, the eldest has pleural plaques – fibrous scarring of the lung linings – while four of the others suffer asbestosis scarring of the lungs themselves, which causes difficulty with breathing.
Even by the late 1970s, workers living in the north of England and the Midlands who were employed in many of the manufacturing, engineering and shipbuilding industries, where asbestos was used as an insulation or fire retardant, would bring their overalls and work clothes home to be washed and ironed.
Inevitably, dust containing the deadly asbestos fibres would be ingrained in the clothing fabric as well as being found on work boots and in the hair. Once airborne fibres are breathed in, they embed permanently within the lung linings, almost always leading to asbestosis diseases or the fatal malignant tumours of mesothelioma.
Unfortunately, the unusually long gestation period of up to 50 years often means that asbestosis symptoms only appear at a late stage when the disease has spread to adjacent organ tissue and life expectancy from a confirmed diagnosis can be less than four months.
To pursue a secondary exposure case for mesothelioma compensation can be more difficult to win, simply because the victim has not been directly exposed to asbestos at the original workplace source.
Success depends on demonstrating that an employer should have known it was foreseeable that an employee would leave work to return home with asbestos still on their clothes. However, an employer could still have possessed earlier detailed knowledge of asbestos and its’ risks, although it was often ignored or denied at the time.