Gordon Prior, 42, is suffering from mesothelioma, a tumour of the lining of the lung caused by exposure to asbestos, although he never worked in the factory. He is racked with pain, has lost four stone in six months, and has difficulty breathing. He has been given only months to live.
Mr Prior grew up near an asbestos factory in Barking, east London, owned by Cape PLC. The factory closed in 1968, and earlier this month Cape paid the pounds 45,000 into the High Court, before a full hearing in front of a judge, without accepting liability.
Lawyers and campaigners for people affected by asbestos-related illnesses now believe Cape and other companies could face demands for compensation from thousands of people. Cape has already paid millions to ex-workers. Now an even larger sum could be paid to residents who live or lived near their factories.
Rodney Nelson-Jones, Mr Prior's solicitor, said: 'This is a landmark case and will undoubtedly open the doors for other people to take action. I have dealt with more than 600 asbestos settlements. This is the first time anyone has received damages for 'neighbourhood' pollution by asbestos. It has been fairly easy for many years to recover damages on behalf of employees and bereaved relatives due to asbestosis and mesothelioma.'
Mr Prior, who now lives in Dagenham, recalls how nobody in Barking worried about the 'dusty snow' everywhere around the factory. 'We used to touch it and play with it. It used to blow into our homes which were right next to the factory. The school was in the next street near the factory and we used to get the dust floating into the playground. So even children who didn't live near the factory were exposed.
'I am concentrating on enjoying the last few months of my life, although I know the pain is going to get worse. If my case helps other people bring successful actions against Cape then I feel I will have achieved something.'
Because of the state of his health, preliminary court hearings were held at his house with lawyers and officials hearing evidence and arguing legal points at his bedside.
Mesothelioma is a fast-growing cancer which often lies dormant for decades before erupting.