We have known asbestos causes cancer for more than 100 years. So why are people still dying?

David Crookes' father died of mesothelioma last week. To mark Action Mesothelioma Day this Friday, he urges more action to combat the use of asbestos

Fact File
  • 2300 People diagnosed with mesothelioma each year
Related Topics

If you would like to find out more about Mesothelioma or make a donation, please visit Mesothelioma UK or call them on 0800 169 2409


We had an external garage. It looked inconspicuous enough, if not a little shabby. Although it's hard to pinpoint when it was built, a good guess would be in the 1970s. It certainly was not constructed after 1999 because this garage contained a not-so-hidden danger that was banned in the UK in that year. It had, on top, something that could considerably shorten a human life by some years. The roof was made of asbestos.

When I bought my first house, a decent-sized terrace north of Manchester some eight years ago, the survey said there may be asbestos in the ceiling tiles. It was something I didn't really think about. Neither did my wife when she bought what is now our nice little semi-detached marital home four years ago with the asbestos-containing garage to the right-hand side. We knew asbestos was not a good thing. We just did not realise how bad it could potentially be.

That changed last October. My father went into hospital with a pleural effusion. This is a build up of excess fluid between the space that surrounds the lungs. He had struggled to breathe for around a week and had got to the point where he would gasp when walking to the bathroom. The cause, depending on the type of pleural effusion, could be anything ranging from infection to heart failure. In my father's case it was mesothelioma.

Until the word was mentioned to us, we had never heard of it. It took us a while to work out how it was pronounced. What we knew, because the consultant told us, was that it was terminal. We also knew that it should be taken seriously. A consultant – rather carelessly, we felt - asked if my father would be happy to have a post-mortem examination before his chemotherapy had even started. His morale dropped from that moment on.

It took us aback and so began months of heartache, of hopes built up and dashed. Mesothelioma eventually led to his death, aged 68, some eight months later. His final weeks were spent in a wheelchair on oxygen unable to move and gasping for air. Before his breathlessness, he had been incredibly fit and healthy. Three months before he went to hospital on an emergency admission, he had walked up Snowdon.

Each year, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), around 2,300 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma. It has risen from 153 in 1968. More than 80 per cent of deaths are among men and, like my father who cannot ever recall coming into contact with asbestos outside of work, it is mainly due to asbestos exposure in the workplace.

Mesothelioma will peak in 2016. It has affected builders. It has killed the wives of husbands who have come home from work with asbestos fibres on their clothing. By inhaling just a few fibres of asbestos no matter whether it is blue or brown (the import of which were banned in the UK in 1985) or white (banned outright in 1999 following a partial ban in 1992), there is a risk of being struck by a cancer that offers an average prognosis of just eight months.

Death is not immediate. The fibres remain in the body for years. The median latency is 32 years and it is never less than 15. HSE calls it the hidden killer. People who worked in power stations and on factory floors as apprentices were put at risk by a substance that even first century Greeks and Romans were said to have noticed causing disease of the lungs and which, in the early 1900s, was spotted by a London doctor, H Montague Murray, and suspected of being harmful. Hundreds of legal cases are mounted against negligent companies which exposed their workers to it.

Teachers who have been exposed to asbestos in schools riddled with the stuff have also died. So have nurses. Colleges, hospitals and other public buildings have contained asbestos and continue to do so. This is why the European Parliament wants it removed from such places by 2028. That would go some way to help combat this terrible and sad statistic: more than 35,000 people died by mesothelioma between 1997 and 2007.

There is no cure. There have been battles. Alimta is the standard chemotherapy drug used for mesothelioma but the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) could not recommend it for years. It was finally approved in 2008.

There is little research and scant funding. Lord Alton of Liverpool moved on June 5, 2013, to plea for research funding to fight a disease that he said would claim 56,000 more British lives. He said the British Lung Foundation invested £1 million in research in 2011 but that the Government invested nothing. He found it shocking that not a penny of state funding was given and he referred to a Sunday Times report which said research would be conducted to examine causes and find cures. That was 50 years ago.

We are no nearer to a cure. There are trials, there is work being carried out in Frankfurt and Australia and America lead the way in international research. But there is still much to be done. It is time to stop talking and allow victims to recapture their breath. We need to professionally remove as much asbestos as possible and help find a cure or a way of prolonging the life of those effected.

Action Mesothelioma Day 2013 is on Friday, July 5. If you would like to find out more about Mesothelioma or make a donation, please visit Mesothelioma UK or call them on 0800 169 2409.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SEO Account Manager

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SEO Account Manager is requi...

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant - Global Leader - FTSE 250

£18000 - £23000 per annum + competitive: SThree: As an Associate Recruitment C...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Representative

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family run school photogra...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - OTE £42,000

£28000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be joining a leading s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A church in South Carolina burns after a fire breaks out on June 30, 2015  

America knows who has been burning black churches, but it refuses to say

Robert Lee Mitchell III
England's Jodie Taylor, left, and Jill Scott celebrate Taylor's goal against Canada during the first half in a quarterfinal of the Women's World Cup  

Women's World Cup: We should be able to praise England's Lionesses without shaming the men's team

Charlie Webster
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map