The UK has one of the highest rates of asbestos related diseases in the world. Mesothelioma, the most common type of asbestos disease, is a type of cancer and is caused due to long term or repeated exposure to asbestos.
The disease gets its name because it forms tumours in the lining of an organ – the mesothelium. The survival rate of people who develop mesothelioma is alarmingly low because generally the disease isn’t found until reaching stage three or four due to displaying little to no symptoms early on in its development.
The reason that the UK is such a hotspot for asbestos related disease like mesothelioma, is because the government continued to allow its use for years after it was banned in countries such as Canada, the US and Australia.
One of the main uses of asbestos was in the shipping industry, which was highly successful in the United Kingdom, during and after World War II. It’s not just those involved in the building of ships that are at a higher risk of diseases caused by asbestos though. Asbestos was used as insulation for ships as well as in lots of other areas – including the ceilings walls and floors of sleeping quarters, the boiler room and the engine – and was included in ships used by the armed forces. Because of this, it’s not just those involved in the building of the ships that were at risk of breathing in asbestos fibres, it’s also those who served on the vessels where asbestos was used.
Who’s at risk?
Prior to the 1980s asbestos was common in the shipping industry which means that anyone who worked on the building of a ship or served on a ship is considered to have been at high risk of asbestos exposure and therefore at a much higher risk of developing asbestos related disease.
Construction workers as well as plumbers, joiners and electricians are also at a higher risk because up until 2000 new structures that were erected and old structures that were renovated are likely to contain asbestos. As a comparison, in the USA any buildings that were constructed after the 1980s will have minimal, if any, amount of asbestos within them.
Where else was it used?
Because of the wide use of asbestos in all kinds of constructions up until as late as 2000, it could still be found in factories, commercial buildings, power plants and even in homes and schools. Despite scientific warning about the dangers of the use of asbestos from as early as the 1920s and 30s it continued to be used. It wasn’t until the 1970s when it became obvious that the number of cases of asbestos related diseases, including mesothelioma, were on the rise that the government decided that it was necessary to take action to control the use of asbestos and possibly even to enforce a ban on its use.
In 1985 the UK government introduced regulations to reduce the use of asbestos in any industry by banning blue and brown (crocidolite and amosite respectively) as these were considered the most dangerous forms. In 1992 this law was extended to include some forms of white (chrysotile) asbestos. However, it wasn’t until 1999 that all types of asbestos were essentially banned from the UK, as the government prohibited the use and import of all types of white asbestos.
Laws that were passed during the 90s also stated that any work that was carried out on products that contained asbestos had to be done by a trained professional. In 2006 this law was incorporated in the Control of Asbestos Regulations Act which, as well as prohibiting the importation, supply and use of all types of asbestos, states that asbestos that is already in place can remain as long as it is undisturbed and in good condition.