A grim new warning over the rising number of people who will fall victim to mesothelioma in the next thirty years was issued at a conference held on this year’s Action Mesothelioma Day, Friday 3rd July.

The conference, which took place at the Gateshead Civic Centre, Tyne And Wear, heard from mesothelioma patients, carers, health and legal professionals calling for greater asbestos awareness and reminding about the continuing health dangers of Britain’s asbestos past.

Higher than expected mortality

More than 20,000 people are predicted to lose their lives to mesothelioma every ten years until at least 2045. One in three male deaths and one in five female deaths will be from the worst former asbestos “hotspots” of the north of England, according to figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The estimated number of future mesothelioma deaths is based on the ratio of previously recorded deaths in a “control” study group from different areas of the country. The number is then measured against the ‘Standard Mortality Rate’ (SMR), which is set at 100. Any figure shown to above 100 indicates a higher than expected mortality.

Rate for different geographical regions

The calculation factors in different aspects of the control group being studied. The factors include the number of persons in each age group, age specific death rates of the general population in the same age groups and the observed deaths in the study population.

The HSE can then calculate the mesothlioma mortality rate for different geographical regions as a ratio to the average mesothelioma mortality rate for the total British population. A region with an SMR of 200 would have a mortality rate of twice the national average, and a SMR of 50 would represent a mortality rate of only half the national average.

The North East and Scotland

The SMR rate continues to still be high in specific regional areas, three decades after the most dangerous blue and brown asbestos types were first banned, and nearly twenty years since the use of white asbestos went into decline and was also finally banned.

The highest SMRs are consistently found to be in the North East and Scotland. Asbestos was commonly used as an inexpensive anti corrosion and heat resistant insulator in the many shipyards, foundries, engineering works and industrial manufacturing plants concentrated in the two regions.

Barrow and North Tyneside

Between the 1950s and the 1970s, around 170,000 tons of asbestos was being imported each year and two of the most vulnerable groups of workers in British industry were shipbuilders and dockyard workers.

The HSE research reports that Barrow-in-Furness in north west England recorded the highest SMR of 493 with 241 male deaths from mesothelioma. Barrow is home to the former Vickers shipyard and shipbuilding areas in the north east are also heavily represented.

North Tyneside recorded the third worst SMR of 309 with 411 deaths, while South Tyneside was in fifth place with an SMR of 303 and 321 deaths, up from the 317 deaths reported by the HSE a year earlier.

Increase on previous figures

Nearly all the other shipbuilding regions also showed an increased SMR on previous figures. Hartlepool recorded an SMR of 249 and 143 deaths, up from an SMR of 240. Sunderland reported 376 deaths with an SMR of 212 compared to the previous 230 and Stockton had an SMR of 210 (222 deaths) compared to the previous 211.

Sunderland recorded the second highest female mesothelioma mortality rate with the northern areas of Newcastle at 7th, Barrow at eighth and North Tyneside, 17th.

Upward trend

Mesothelioma mortality rates for women in the 45-54 and 55-64 age groups continued to reduce less strongly than for men between 1968 and 2011, according to a 2013 report by the HSE.

Overall the trend for all mesothelioma fatalities across the UK is still upwards. More than 2,500 mesothelioma deaths were reported by the HSE in 2012 alone, a rise of nearly 11 per cent.