Parliamentary Asbestos Seminar
The annual seminar of the Parliamentary Asbestos Sub-Group took place in London yesterday afternoon (July 16), hours before a memorial service at Westminster Abbey honored MP Paul Goggins, a renowned campaigner for the rights of asbestos victims. Jim Sheridan, the Chair of the Group, presided over the session which featured presentations covering legal, medical and political issues. Coming less than a fortnight after Action Mesothelioma Day had highlighted the devastation caused by the national asbestos catastrophe, the human dimension of the epidemic of avoidable cancers and respiratory diseases was at the forefront of delegates minds.1 As a leading UK medical researcher told delegates, the UK mesothelioma epidemic was a health emergency.
Lauren Ross, whose husband Frank died of mesothelioma in 2007, was the first speaker. Mrs. Ross detailed the terrible price paid by generations of workers who had died prematurely from occupational accidents and diseases. Before her husband had been diagnosed with mesothelioma Lauren, who had lost her grandfather and great uncle to work accidents, had thought that deaths at work were a thing of the past. The reason I have come here today is, she said because I know that unfortunately this is not the case. Frank was only sixty years old when he died; had it not been for mesothelioma, he could have lived another 24 years. To protect others, Lauren urged that action be taken to ensure that preventative measures be enforced and that funding be provided so that life-saving medical research could be conducted.
Lauren Ross, Greater Manchester Asbestos Victims Support Group.
Fiona Murie, the Global Director of Occupational Health and Safety for the Building and Woodworkers International (BWI), described the BWIs long-standing struggle to secure safe working conditions for their members. emphasizing the high risk to construction workers of occupational asbestos exposures. She contrasted the huge discrepancy between the situation in developed and developing countries; in most of the former, the only permitted handling of asbestos is by highly protected and trained technicians during asbestos removal operations while in the later, asbestos is regarded as just another raw material. Having detailed the aggressive and well-resourced propaganda campaign by asbestos industry stakeholders, Ms. Murie highlighted the global strategy pursued by the BWI, in collaboration with its civil society partners, to ban asbestos.
Fiona Murie, Building and Woodworkers International.
In the presentation entitled: The First Asbestos Claim Brought against the Dutch State, Dutch Senator and Asbestos Victims Lawyer Bob Ruers focused on the case of Klaas Jasperse, a former factory worker suffering from mesothelioma.2 For thirty years, Mr Jasperse was occupationally exposed to asbestos on almost a daily basis. In 2009, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Mr Jasperse brought a claim against his employer, but the company became insolvent; a legal action against the Dutch State was instigated for its negligence in failing to protect employees in a timely fashion from the asbestos hazard. Mr. Ruers reviewed Dutch and international law which supported Mr. Jasperses claim, arguing that the occupational asbestos hazard was known in the Netherlands in 1949 because it was in 1949 that the Dutch state recognised asbestosis as an occupational disease and that employers were required to take precautions to protect their employees against asbestos. A similar claim against the French Government was successful in May 2012 and asbestos victims are now pursuing actions against the Japanese Government. If this, the first claim against the Dutch Government is won, others could follow.
Dean Fennell, Professor of Thoracic Medical Oncology from the University of Leicester addressed the issue of: New Generation Therapy for Mesothelioma. Having reviewed the progress made in medical research into the treatment of lung cancer, the speaker delineated new techniques and protocols being explored by UK researchers in the fight against mesothelioma. Currently, the only chemotherapy for mesothelioma is based on research from 2003; under treatment with pemetrexed and cisplatin the average survival rates increased from 9.3 months to 12.1 months. The UK is leading the world in randomized trials and more are due to start, Professor Fennell told delegates. Clinicians are hopeful that targeted and personalized therapies for mesothelioma patients will improve treatment outcomes.
Professor Dean Fennell.
The final speaker was Jason Addy, a PhD researcher in environmental and occupational law policy, who addressed Low Level Asbestos Lessons from History. Mr. Addy raised concerns about the former asbestos site in the Spodden Valley, Rochdale where asbestos dumping took place on an industrial scale over decades. Asbestos production by the Turner Brothers Asbestos Company, which later became Turner and Newall Ltd. (T&N), started at this site in the 1870s. T&N, known as the UK asbestos giant, aggressively lobbied decision and policy makers in local and national government on matters of commercial interest. A historical analysis of archived T&N documents relating to the 1969 Asbestos Regulations and Guidance Notes was informative about the access to gatekeepers and the influence on key stakeholders T&N exploited to ensure that the economic, political and legal climate remained as favorable as possible for the asbestos industrial sector. Reinforcing comments made by Senator Ruers about the negligence of national governments, Mr. Addy considered the opportunities for collusion between the State and corporate interests. In order to ensure that the detailed historical records accumulated on these subjects were available to protect victims rights now and in the future, it was recommended that a project be launched to collate and digitize this archive.
Delegates were offered the opportunity to raise their concerns with the expert speakers and with MPs Jim Sheridan, Ian Lavery and Kate Green during the discussion and question and answer segments of the seminar. A full report on this meeting is under preparation.
Commenting on the July 16th seminar, Dr. Greg Deleuil, the Medical Advisor for the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia (ADSA), who has spoken at the annual seminar on previous occasions, said:
While the scope of the issues covered was wide ranging, I particularly valued the presentation by Lauren Ross who spoke movingly of the tragedy of her husbands early death. In Australia we have many asbestos victims and the ADSA works with them on a daily basis to ensure that they have the support they need to deal with this awful disease. It was stimulating to hear about the research of Professor Fennell and his colleagues and I will discuss the information he conveyed with my colleagues back in Perth upon my return home.
July 17, 2014
1 Palmer H. Manchesters Action Mesothelioma Day 2014. July 4, 2014.
2 Ruers, B. First Asbestos Claim brought against the Dutch State. February 24, 2014.