The fatal health risks linked to asbestos exposure, no matter how slight or fleeting should never be underestimated. Asbestos materials, which are securely sealed and guarded in a ‘managed’ environment represent minimal danger because the tiny fibre dust particles are encapsulated and prevented from becoming airborne.

Unfortunately, the potential risk from ‘environmental’ exposure in buildings where a lack of asbestos awareness to the fatal health risks has increasingly come to prominence in the press. While the most toxic blue and brown asbestos fibre types were eventually banned in the mid 1980s and imports of white asbestos were stopped more than a decade later, research experts consider that any building constructed or refurbished up to 2000 may be insulated with asbestos-containing materials.

In recent years, an ever younger age group of victims are being diagnosed with fatal mesothelioma cancer due to asbestos exposure during their teenage years, either at school or in the workplace. As the number of male workers of older generations who were exposed by directly handling asbestos materials in heavy industry occupations gradually reduces over time, the incidence of mesothelioma being diagnosed in middle aged females appears to be on the rise.

Exposure at more than one location

In the most recent tragic case, a 46 year old mother of three from Salford was diagnosed with mesothelioma, which was thought to have been caused through slight but “cumulative” exposure at more than one location. One possible source of exposure was believed to have been the demolition of a local swimming baths, which may have exposed the middle aged woman to airborne fibres while she was a child playing at a neighbouring primary school.

At the inquest of the mother who suffered with the incurable cancer for three years after diagnosis was confirmed, it was heard that exposure may have taken place while she was employed at a textiles factory during the 1980s, while she was still only in her late teens. According to one co-worker statement, it was possible that heating pipes and clothes presses may have been insulated with asbestos materials and visible in “cracked” floor tiles, which were widely manufactured from asbestos fibres during the middle decades of the twentieth century.

Three fold increase in females aged under 60

While the incidence of mesothelioma and asbestosis as a cause of industrial disease have risen in the UK almost four-fold in the last thirty years, research has also found a threefold increase in the overall female death-rate of those aged below 65 since 1970. An increasing numbers of mesothelioma cases now also involve women aged in their 50 or 60s who were continuously employed for several years as teachers, factory workers and store assistants during the early part of their working lives in the late 1960s, 70s and 80s.

However, a Freedom of Information request by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) confirms that there are still a high number of female victims who are diagnosed with mesothelioma aged between 70 and 74. Recently published figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) indicate that there could be as many as 400 female mesothelioma fatalities caused by asbestos exposure every year – double the diagnosis rate of the US and EU countries.

Of growing concern has been the doubling in the background “environmental” exposure rate, most of which has occurred in just the last ten years. Both environmental and secondary exposures have been attributed to the deaths of around 1,200 women since 2008, alone.