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The Deadly Risk for Welsh Workers

The Deadly Risk for Welsh Workers in Their Offices, Shops and Factories.

Byline: By MADELEINE BRINDLEY Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), February 27, 2006

Asbestos may still be lurking in 1.5 million shops, factories and offices across the UK even though the substance has been banned, a report published today has revealed. The TUC has issued a fresh warning to workers to make sure they are not being exposed to the fibre as new research shows that 4,000 people are dying a year from asbestos-related diseases.

In the next decade such exposure to asbestos is predicted to kill about 10,000 people in the UK.

On National Mesothelioma Day, as a petition calling for action is presented at Downing Street, a Welsh widow has spoken of how just a small amount of exposure to asbestos in the 1970s cost her husband his life 30 years later.

Valerie Jefferson, a retired accountant, from Chepstow, is just one of a growing number of people in Wales who have lost loved ones to the disease.

She has now been awarded pounds 155,000 industrial disease compensation after claiming on behalf of husband Robert, who died in 2004, aged 55.

Mr Jefferson was exposed to asbestos while working for an engineering company, which was charged with removing and replacing boilers in Ministry of Defence properties in the early 1970s.

He left that job, which he had held for less than two years, immediately after seeing a television documentary programme about the dangers of working with asbestos. But the mesothelioma did not develop until later in life and he was diagnosed with the cancer in 2002, when he was 53.

Mrs Jefferson, 60, a mother-of-two, said, 'Since he watched that programme he had trouble sleeping at night - he worried whether it would happen to him for 30 years.

'It is very, very devastating. I wouldn't want to describe to anyone how awful the last couple of weeks were for him. 'It is a completely and utterly cruel disease - he was looking forward to working and then retirement, but it was all taken away from him.' Eamonn McDonough, head of the Thompsons Wales asbestos team who represented Mrs Jefferson said, 'Mrs Jefferson is one of the growing number of widows in Wales who have lost their loved one due to mesothelioma.

'The compensation will never make up for this loss or the terrible suffering her husband went through because of this disease.'

Mesothelioma, caused by exposure to asbestos, has also devastated Terry Tobin's family - killing his wife, her brother and father.

Mr Tobin's wife Dorothy died in May 2005 - her only exposure had been to breathe in the asbestos fibres attached to her father's clothes when she sat on his knee as a child.

Like her father, Jim Pottinger who died in 1969 from an asbestos disease believed to be mesothelioma, Mrs Tobin's brother Jack also worked for an insulation company, in Newport.

He died from mesothelioma in 1999. And her sister Beryl, who lives in Australia, suffers from an asbestos related disease. Her only contact with asbestos was also from her father's clothing. Mr Tobin, who lives in Newport, said, 'Sadly, nothing can bring my wife back. I can only hope that this campaign will make people much more aware of mesothelioma and the suffering it causes.

'I hope that it will lead to further research which will improve early diagnosis and treatment so that other families don't have to suffer as my family has suffered.'

The TUC will today send a million stickers and thousands of leaflets to workplaces bearing the message 'Asbestos Kills'.

The union organisation believes many employers are unaware of their legal obligation to find out about and keep records of asbestos in their buildings - or are ignoring the law.

Brendan Barber, TUC General Secretary said, 'All forms of asbestos are dangerous, no matter what some employers might say. 'The cancers caused by the killer fibres can take years to develop, so someone who breathes in asbestos dust now may not become ill for another 25 years. 'We don't want to see any more people exposed to asbestos in future.': Rare cancer may take 50 years to develop, often in the lungs:Malignant mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that begins in the membrane that covers and protects most of the body's internal organs. The most common form of mesothelioma is pleural mesothelioma, which occurs in the lining of the lung. Mesothelioma is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos fibres but because of the latency of the cancer, it may not appear for 20 to 50 or more years after exposure. When most people with mesothelioma are diagnosed, the disease is usually advanced - people may not have symptoms in the early stages - and the prognosis is poor. More than 2,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year in the UK, but the number of cases is expected to rise sharply over the next 20 years because of the heavy use of asbestos in industry. The Tenovus Freephone Cancer Helpline can be contacted on 0808 808 1010