Action threat by cancer-link coal workers

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The Independent Online
Former workers at a British Coal smokeless fuel plant may seek compensation after only now learning of a health report completed nine years ago that revealed disturbing links with cancer.

A study by the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Edinburgh suggested that exposure to risks involved in the coal carbonisation process was almost certainly responsible for a higher than usual death rate in the area. The 50-year-old Phurnacite plant, at Abercwmboi in South Wales, employed more than 1,000 men in its heyday before shutting in 1991.

A campaign group formed in the Cynon Valley to help victims of illnesses has collected details of more than 100 ex-workers who either died of cancers or had cancer-related operations - many since the plant's closure.

The medical study - obtained for the BBC Wales Week In, Week Out current affairs programme which is screened tonight - shows an excess in certain types of deaths.

Commissioned by British Coal and compiled in 1987, the Edinburgh study identified 38 ex-employees who died of various cancers whereas the expected mortality rate was 30.

One of its authors, Fintan Hurley, told the programme: "There was strong evidence that exposure to coal carbonisation fumes can lead to increased lung cancer. I see this result as part of that picture."

Many ex-Phurnacite workers contacted by BBC Wales said they were unaware of any connection between cancer and the industry. Malcolm Cook, a campaign group organiser who also worked at the plant, said: "I know full well of at least eighty to ninety former workmates who have died of cancers or who have undergone cancer-related operations. It seems to me that every day the statistics are getting higher and higher."

Ann Clwyd, Labour MP for the Cynon Valley, will today meet trade union officials in London to discuss pursuing compensation cases. She said: "There appears to be an inordinate amount of cancer among men who worked at the plant. That has to be evaluated to find out whether it is a direct result of working in the process or due to other reasons."

Maureen Falder, whose husband David worked for 27 years at the plant and died of lung cancer shortly after retiring, is backing the campaign to help victims and their families. Mrs Falder, of Mountain Ash, Mid Glamorgan, said: "Losing your partner is horrendous, especially when you see a very fit man go to just a shadow. It's something you don't want anyone else to go through."

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