The asbestos disease crisis is a Europe-wide phenomenon. A report by Dr Jukka Takala, senior consultant to the Ministry of Manpower, Singapore, published in September 2015 concluded over 47,000 people in the European Union are dying of asbestos related conditions each year with the UK topping the fatalities list. ‘Eliminating occupational cancer in Europe’, published by the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), puts deaths caused by exposure to asbestos at three times previous estimates.
Inhalation of asbestos fibres can cause cancers such as mesothelioma and lung cancer, and other serious lung diseases such as pleural thickening and asbestosis.
Widespread use of asbestos in the past, particularly in the building industry, led to a large increase in asbestos related diseases in the UK over the last few decades.
Annual deaths from Mesothelioma in Britain have increased steeply over the last 50 years, a consequence of mainly occupational asbestos exposure that occurred due to the widespread industrial use of asbestos between 1950-1980.
According to the latest study by HSE, there are over 5000 asbestos-related disease deaths per year currently in the UK. There were 2526 mesothelioma deaths the UK In 2017, a similar number to the previous 5 years. The latest predictions suggest that annual numbers will begin to decline over the next decade.
There were 2087 male deaths and 439 female deaths (a slight increase to previous years) in 2017. A HSE report says “predictions suggest that the peak among females will occur later than in males (beyond 2020)”.
According to the National Education Union at least 319 teachers have died from mesothelioma, a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos since 1980, and 205 of these deaths have occurred since 2001.
Some 86% of schools contain asbestos, a study found in 2015. The material was typically used in buildings between the 1940s and 1970s. Experts say it is a greater health risk as it gets older and starts to degrade.