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ASBESTOS COULD KILL 1,000 PEOPLE A YEAR; Birmingham Holds Health Summit on Workplace Risk.

Byline: BY ADAM ASPINALL Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England), October 1, 2006

ASBESTOS-related diseases could be claiming the lives of 1,000 Midlanders a year by 2011, experts have warned.

The rising death toll will be discussed at a special summit of health and safety experts in Birmingham tomorrow.

They want to see the Government take urgent action to help tackle a potential asbestos epidemic facing the country.

Workplace disease expert Alida Coates, from Birmingham's Irwin Mitchell solicitors, said: "Over the past 20 years, we have represented hundreds of sufferers of asbestos-related diseases.

"Sadly, the number of asbestos-related cancers such as mesothelioma remains on the increase.

"People just don't realise that asbestos is still present in many buildings today.

"I regularly see clients diagnosed with mesothelioma who had been in contact with asbestos during the 1990s. Others continued to work with asbestos right up to the time of their diagnosis with this fatal disease."

Derek Hoult, from Great Barr in Birmingham, died in 2001 after being exposed to asbestos in his job as a ceiling tile distributor in the 1980s.

Daughter Karen Wright, also from Great Barr, still struggles to come to terms with her loss - and now fears for the future of other families.

The 40 year-old mum-of-three said: "We are facing an explosion in asbestos-related illnesses in the West Midlands, yet not enough people know it's coming.

"Dad's health had started to deteriorate in 2000 but he had no idea anything was wrong.

"At first it was just a niggly cough, nothing really major. Then he started losing weight.

"He couldn't breathe and had chronic pain in his back.

"He was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma on September 13, 2001, and died two months later. His lungs had just disintegrated.

"Unfortunately, as with many companies at the time, his firm did not have public liability insurance.

"It never gets any easier dealing with his death and the sense of injustice that goes with it.

"But it is important that people realise what they may be facing because lots of families could be torn apart."

There were 518 deaths from mesothelioma in the West Midlands between 1981 and 2000, but 373 deaths between just 2001 and 2003.

Experts now fear that rate could peak to l,000-a-yearby2011.

Ms Coates said: "Unlike other forms of cancer, medical experts believe that the incidence of mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer cases will rise still further.

"Particularly shocking, however, is that mesothelioma, once thought to be an 'old person's disease', is now increasingly claiming younger victims and in a wider range of occupations.

"Governments and employers have known asbestos can cause cancer for many decades and yet they continued to expose generations of men and women to this fatal substance.

"Asbestos use should have been controlled more stringently to prevent the devastation that it is now causing in this country and which it will continue to cause if its use is not stringently monitored."

The Health and Safety Executive launched a 'Don't take the Gamble' initiative last month.

The campaign seeks to raise public awareness of the ongoing dangers of asbestos, which remains a threat in any building built before 2000.

The one-day conference, at Villa Park, will feature talks from industry experts. adam a

TRAGIC DEATH: Derek Hoult with his grandson Benjamin who was six weeks old when this picture was taken in 2000.