Mesothelioma victims who were innocently exposed to asbestos insulation hidden in the walls or ceilings at their workplace are regularly reported, and often bring concerned enquiries from members of the public.

In recent years there has been a significant rise in asbestos awareness to its widespread presence in schools, colleges and nurseries, and the considerable health risk to mostly female teachers, pupils and other schoolworkers. However, an increasing proportion of mesothelioma cases now involve middle-aged female victims who were employed in everyday occupations, such as offices, retail stores, restaurants and banks at any time from the 1960s through to the 1980s.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) there has been a threefold increase in the average female mesothlioma mortality of those aged under 65 since 1970.

Exposed to asbestos at leading retail store

One recent case involves a former sales assistant now in her early 50s, who was employed during her twenties at a leading retail department store in central London between 1978 and 1987. As is now more commonly understood, between 15 and 50 years may elapse before any mesothelioma or asbestosis symptoms appear, and it was only in 2013 that late stage mesothelioma was diagnosed.

The increase in asbestos-related disease diagnosed in females working in ordinary occupations is being linked to the decline in the number of males who worked with asbestos in heavy industry from the late 1970s, and from when the first asbestos ban was introduced in the mid 1980s. HSE have said that between 1968 and 2011 the mesothelioma fatality rates in the 45-54 and 55-64 age groups, “have not reduced as strongly in women as in men”, which is likely to be the result of traditional male occupational sources of exposure having long ceased.

Unaware of breathing in the fibre dust particles

The changing demographic of those who most likely to fall victim to asbestos-related disease in the thirty years since its use as an insulation / fireproofing material was prohibited is often defined as the “third wave.”

The “third wave” includes all those who work or live in any private, public or commercial property constructed with asbestos, and are unaware that they might be daily exposed and breathing in the deadly dust particles, such as teachers, nurses, shop assistants, council estate or private tenants.

“First Wave” victims of exposure were the men and women who, from the 1940s to the 1980s, were daily exposed to inhaling asbestos fibre dust when working directly with the material in factories, engineering works, shipyards, railway yards, vehicle assembly lines, building construction and manufacturing industries.

“Second wave” victims refers to builders, demolition crews and trade-related workers, such as plumbers, electricians, heating / air conditioning installers, tilers, painter and decorators, who are likely to uncover asbestos when working on properties built or renovated up until the 1990s at least, when white asbestos was still being used in the building industry. Included in this category are emergency services, most notably, fireman.

According to recent HSE figures, there could now be as many as 400 female mesothelioma fatalities caused by asbestos exposure every year.