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Mesothelioma

Asbestos Cancer Threat to Ex Car Workers

Byline: BY ADAM ASPINALL

THOUSANDS of former Midland car workers may fall victim to asbestos-related cancer, experts have warned.

The region has witnessed a huge increase in deaths through mesothelioma, a condition associated with exposure to the killer material, since 1999.

And Kim Atherton, spokeswoman for the Nottingham-based Asbestos Disease Association, has told the Sunday Mercury that the grim toll will rise this year.

She predicted that former Midland assembly-line workers from Rover, Jaguar, Land Rover and Peugeot, could be among a huge number of victims.

"Former car workers are at particular risk from this disease because of the large amount of asbestos used in vehicle production," said Ms Atherton.

"Of particular concern to us are those individuals who worked on the assembly lines. They dealt with the brakes on cars which were sprayed, and baked, in asbestos ovens.

"But no-one is safe from asbestos. No industry is completely free from it.

"We have had cases of science teachers who contracted cancer from the asbestos mats they used in class and home economics teachers who became ill because of asbestos oven gloves they used while teaching."

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) asbestos-related deaths will peak by 2015, as a result of workers' past exposure to the substance.

Infected

Yet it can take between 15 and 60 years for for the full impact of mesothelioma to take effect, meaning that thousands of Midlanders could already be infected without knowing it.

The numbers of people dying from the effects of asbestos in the region has risen steadily since 1999 when 12 people died from mesothelioma.

In 2003, the last year for which the Department of Work and figures were available, that figure had risen to 69.

Ms Atherton said: "Even if you have come into contact with asbestos for just a few months you could be at risk. If you have any doubts, you should see your GP and ask for a chest X-ray.

"People used to regard mesothelioma as an old man's disease that only affected the working class but more and more young people are falling ill, as are people from professional backgrounds.

An HSE spokeswoman said: "We are dealing with the biggest occupational health problem ever encountered in the UK.

"Currently over 3,500 people die annually from asbestos-related diseases, and around 1,800 of those are from mesothelioma. All these deaths relate to exposure between 15 and 60 years ago when poor controls were in place.

"Many of those now dying worked in the asbestos manufacturing industry or installed asbestos insulation in ships, railway carriages, industrial plant and buildings.

"The annual number of deaths is expected to peak somewhere in the range of 4,000 to 5,000, although the peak figure could be even higher, between the years 2011 and 2015.

"This timing corresponds with the peak of asbestos use in the 1970s."

adam_aspinall@mrn.co.uk .com