Research has found that it is those unfortunate victims who were first exposed to asbestos when they were below 20 years old who have the highest incidence of malignant pleural mesothelioma (cancer of the lung linings).
Bafta-nominated actress, Kierston Wareing, 34, who made her first appearance in the BBC soap drama, Eastenders, as Kirsty Branning in December 2012, has recently spoken for the first time about the tragic early death of her mother, Carol, at the age of 66 from asbestos-related cancer contracted when she was only a teenager.
Kierston relates how her mother’s passing away was “such a shock” for Kierston, her father and brother. Despite being a life-long non-smoker and “just one drink at Christmas”, it was Carol’s first job at only 16 years old at an office where she was exposed to asbestos fibres, which nearly 50 years later led to a diagnosis of the fatal, asbestos-related cancer.
The reason why asbestos-related disease remains undetected for such a long time is that in many cases, there was no knowledge of the presence of asbestos when it was part of the fabric of the building, often in the form of ceiling or floor tiles, insulating board and pipe lagging. White asbestos fibres could still be imported for use in the manufacture of building materials, such as corrugated roofing right up until 1999.
In other cases, the possible early signs, such as breathlessness, can be mistakenly confused as a common respiratory ailment, such as bronchitis or pneumonia, or even because of a history of cigarette smoking.
The particular insidious nature of asbestosis diseases is the exceptionally long gestation period of up to 50 years or more, which may elapse from an initial breathing in of the fibre dust particles until the appearance of the first signs of mesothelioma or asbestosis symptoms.
Even where a victim specifically recalls being exposed to asbestos during their early working life, the problem at the time was the lack of proper information and asbestos awareness to the health risks in many industrial workplaces and little or no protective equipment, such as face masks, were made available.
The terrible legacy of Britain’s use of asbestos as an insulation material right up until the first bans were introduced in the mid 1980s continue to be regularly and frequently brought to light whenever mesothelioma claim cases are reported in the press or new legislation introduced.
The incident rate of mesothelioma has increased almost four-fold since the early 1980s and is forecast to rise until at least 2020.