Reports of mesothelioma cases being diagnosed in men and women aged in their early sixties or even younger are a reminder of the continuing legacy of suffering caused by Britain’s widespread industrial use of asbestos as an insulation material during the latter half of the twentieth century.

Peak asbestos years are generally considered to be between the 1940s and 1970s when up to 150,000 tons at least were being imported into Britain every year. Growing asbestos awareness of the lethal health risks did lead to the most dangerous blue and brown asbestos fibre types being eventually banned in the mid 1980s, and finally, imports of white asbestos were stopped more than a decade later.

However, boys who left school at 16 in the mid 1960s and began their working lives in factories and workshops where asbestos containing materials (ACMs) continued to be commonly used throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, are reaching their early and middle sixties only to find they are suffering with mesothelioma or other asbestosis diseases.

Legacy of asbestos still being played out forty years later

One of the particularly unusual features of asbestos-related disease is the length of gestation time from a period of sustained, original exposure to the appearance of asbestosis symptoms, which typically takes between 15 to 50 years or more.

A recent example of how the legacy of asbestos use is still being played out forty years later may be seen in the case of a former engineer who worked at an Oxfordshire factory producing insulation products between 1973 and 1978, when aged in his mid 20s. The shocking lack of health and safety information or protective equipment meant that he would manually mix asbestos powder on a daily basis and constantly breath in the deadly fibre dust particles.

Nearly thirty five years later, at the age of 65, the engineer was diagnosed with mesothelioma, ironically, in the same hospital where he once installed asbestos pipe insulation in the boiler room.

Male mesothelioma expected to increase

Incidence of mesothelioma as a cause of industrial disease have also increased in the UK almost four-fold in the last thirty years. Just within Oxfordshire, between 1981 and 2005, nearly 900 people have died from asbestos-related cancer, and between 2006 and 2010, more than 100 deaths were reported, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Across the UK, at least 2,000 cases of mesothelioma continue to be diagnosed every year, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which also forecast that the expected number of mesothelioma cases amongst males is expected to increase to a peak of 2,038 in 2016, and a further 45,000 mesothelioma deaths can be expected for at least another decade.