Deaths caused by exposure to asbestos, such as mesothelioma, are at an all-time high and are expected to rise for the next five years.
That is the discovery resulting from new research conducted by the BBC Look East programme.
Asbestos was hailed as a ‘wonder building material’ in the 1950s but was banned in Britain in 1999.
According to figures released by the coroner’s office in May, 2,560 people died from industrial diseases in England and Wales in 2010/2011. The majority of these deaths were asbestos-related and all but 201 of those died who died from industrial diseases were male.
Wives who inhaled asbestos dust while washing their husband’s clothes have also been known to contract deadly mesothelioma.
The east of England
The rate of deaths from asbestos-related illnesses, Look East has uncovered, has accelerated in a particularly pronounced rate in the east of England. A four-fold year-on-year increase in the male death rate of mesothelioma was recorded during 2010/2011.
Only the west Midlands suffered a greater increase in the death rates of this fatal disease.
In Essex alone there were 115 verdicts of death from industrial diseases (most of which were asbestos-related) in 2010.
Commenting on why the number deaths relating to asbestos are continuing to climb – despite the substance being banned over a decade ago – Simon Longbottom of the HSE told Look East: “This reflects the long time-lag between exposure and the onset of the disease.
Mr Longbottom added: “Asbestos was used extensively up until 1999 so we have quite a stock of buildings with asbestos-related materials in them.”
Occupations which are vulnerable to mesothelioma
According to the HSE, the most frequently-recorded occupations for those who develop mesothelioma are carpenters, joiners, plumbers, heating and ventilation engineers and electricians.
Teachers and pupils have also been vulnerable to contracting mesothelioma as asbestos was used as a building material in many schools. Between 1991 and 2005, 228 teachers died from asbestos-related diseases.
The HSE believes that the rate of asbestos-related deaths will start to decline around 2016. This hope is strengthened by recent news that clinical trials into a mesothelioma vaccine – the first of its kind – are due to begin in September 2011.
The new vaccine is called TroVax and is due to be tested on 26 patients in trials conducted by doctors in Cardiff in conjunction with Oxford Bio-Medica.
It is hoped that the vaccine will prompt the body’s defence system to fight specific cancerous cells.
The figures below show the number of deaths from industrial diseases by region during 2010 as recorded by English and Welsh coroners
North West 363
South East 357
Yorkshire and the Humber 332
North East 303
South West 256
East of England 251
East Midlands 227
West Midlands 207