Exposure to asbestos for just two days led to the death of a 60 year old man nearly 40 years later. A Coroner’s inquest found that the “industrial disease” that claimed the life of a retired manager from the Wolverhampton area was mesothelioma, the incurable cancer of the lung linings linked to asbestos exposure.

Until relatively recently, more than 80 per cent of all mesothelioma deaths occurred amongst those men who worked with asbestos insulation products during Britain’s peak period of use in the industrial workplace, from the 1940s up until the late 1970s/early 80s. Most victims tended to be aged 75 or above when the first signs of mesothelioma or another asbestosis disease emerged, and a diagnosis confirmed after medical tests.

Increasingly, men and women aged just in their 60s – or even sometimes in their 40s and 50s – are now being diagnosed with mesothelioma or asbestos-related lung cancer. The fatal conditions are also regularly reported to be the most probable cause of the industrial disease that led to their premature death. Worryingly, a significant number of victims are also found to have only come into contact with the deadly fibre dust during one brief period in their late teens or twenties.

Employed in his early 20s at a factory removing asbestos

In the present tragic case, the victim appears to have only been exposed to asbestos for just two days, according to his family. In their court statement read out by the Coroner, they describe how after graduating in 1978, the deceased was employed in his early 20s at a factory removing asbestos, which involved dismantling roofs. However, it seems that he felt unable to continue with this type of work and left after two days.

The Coroner said that the victim’s death was a result of mesothelioma, which he had no doubt, was caused by exposure to asbestos. However, in trying to determine when the exposure occurred, the brief period at the factory appears to be the only known occasion that provides a plausible explanation. It is a well-known characteristic of asbestos-related illnesses that an exceptionally long period of time of between 15 to 50 years or more may pass before the onset of symptoms such as, breathlessness, tight chests or constant coughing.

Recent research has found that nearly 45 per cent of pleural mesothelioma cases were diagnosed at least 40 years after a first exposure, with the risk continuing to increase. Even after 50 years, there were still over 13 per cent of cases recorded. It was also found that the rate and risk of pleural mesothelioma actually intensified until 45 years following first exposure and then appeared to advance, but at a slower pace.

Search for the source of exposure to the first years after leaving school

In a number of mesothelioma claims, the search for the source of exposure can often require tracing back to the first years of employment after leaving school or further education. Different studies have shown that exposure to asbestos early in life can significantly increase the chance of developing mesothelioma, even though the cancer may not appear until after retirement, up to 3 to 4 decades later.

Medical research data points to the highest incidence of malignant pleural mesothelioma is among victims under the age of 20 when they were first exposed. There is also a strong likelihood of a greater susceptibility to other types of cancers, as well as death caused by stroke and heart disease.

There is also evidence to show that just a ‘one-time’ exposure early in life can be enough to trigger the later development of the fatal disease. An early life exposure may also act as the springboard to a working lifetime of exposures at different locations, known as the ‘cumulative’ effect.

To date, asbestos is the only know cause of mesothelioma, therefore leading a Coroner to conclude that exposure to the fibre dust was the cause of death. However, in an increasing number of cases there is no obvious clue as to the possible presence of asbestos in a former workplace. It is the reason why a victim or his family will call upon work colleagues to provide their accounts of working conditions and where exposure to asbestos would most likely have occurred.