Asbestos Developments in Wales and Ireland
According to a report by the Trades Union Congress, there have been 108 asbestos-related deaths in Carmarthenshire, Wales since 1997. Despite the high incidence of asbestos cancer, there is no dedicated lung cancer physician working for Dyfed Powys Health Authority at this time (Summer, 2001). Much of the local asbestos illness can be traced to employment at the former Carmarthen Bay Power Station. Other reminders of Carmarthenshire’s asbestos legacy are pockets of environmental contamination such as that discovered on six acres of Llanelli’s Millennium Coastal Park in November, 2000. On 12 July, 2001 The South Wales Evening Post reported that Carmarthenshire Council had underwritten the £31,306 clean-up operation of this site, previously part of the power station. According to George Harries, Director of the £30 million project: "It was the coastal erosion of that spot which caused the asbestos to be revealed and we will monitor the area to make sure no further problems exist."
Jeffrey Parsons knows about the national asbestos experience. Solicitor Parsons has represented hundreds of Welsh men and women affected by asbestos over ten years, including scores of former power station workers. Two of his more unusual cases are of interest. During the 1960s, Client A, a thermal insulation engineer, spent three years at Hosley Bay Borstal, Suffolk and H M Prison, Lewes. During his incarceration, he stripped insulation off pipes and prepared and applied new insulation. The defendants, which included the Home Office, accepted liability for his exposure and a pre-trial settlement of £21,000 was agreed. Client B died of mesothelioma; he had been occupationally exposed to asbestos while delivering, collecting and steam cleaning industrial hire equipment from power stations and steel works. A payment of £75,000 was accepted shortly before the trial commenced. Solicitor Parsons, who can be contacted via email at email@example.com, says: "There are definite mesothelioma hot spots throughout Wales related to former employment in power stations and asbestos factories. Unfortunately, the age of asbestos claimants is decreasing while the overall numbers show a steady rise. With terminally ill plaintiffs time is of the essence. It has been my experience that defendants exhibit little urgency in the processing of these cases. As a result, I have taken steps to bring this matter before the local civil judge in an attempt to set up a fast track system for all asbestos cases. In September, 2001 Judge Hickinbottom will be holding case management hearings to examine the judicial options open to Swansea County Court, the trial centre for southwest Wales."
The magnificent 18th century building at the corner of Kildare and Merrion Streets, Dublin is Leinster House. Since 1922, this historic structure has housed the two chambers of the National Parliament of Ireland: the Dail. Two recent High Court cases have proved that deteriorating asbestos-containing products in the basement of this building exposed government employees to a high risk of asbestos-related disease as recently as 1990. Raymond Brophy was awarded £60,000 compensation for pleural thickening in the case he brought against the Office of Public Works (OPW) in January, 2001. According to his solicitor, Bryan Fox, the plaintiff "only discovered there was asbestos present in the workplace in Leinster House when an independent contractor was brought in whose people were dressed like spacemen with protective clothing and breathing apparatus." While the Parliamentarians were passing laws regulating the use of asbestos in the upstairs chamber, workmen were continuously being exposed to asbestos lagging on miles and miles of pipes which ran through underground tunnels connecting Leinster House to the Department of Industry and Commerce, the Department of Agriculture, the National Museum and the National Gallery. Operative Stephen Fletcher worked from 1985-1990 assisting fitters and plumbers in the basement. During this time, he removed asbestos lagging and worked in an environment contaminated by crocidolite and amosite-lagged pipes. An expert witness testified that by the 1970s, the State was fully aware of the dangers of asbestos. Despite this knowledge, the dangerous conditions persisted; no warnings were given to the workers, no protective clothing or masks were provided. In 1984, a Department of Labour Inspector wrote a letter stating that all asbestos lagging in the basement was in poor condition and should be removed. He noted large lumps of asbestos on the basement floor. Although Mr. Fletcher has no asbestos-related symptoms, he is angry at the treatment he received and worried that he may contract mesothelioma. In a reserved judgment handed down on 15 June, 2001, Mr. Justice O’Neill accepted that the claimant is suffering from "reactive anxiety neurosis." The Commissioners of Public Works were held liable for failing to provide a safe place of work and the claimant was awarded damages of nearly £50,000. After the verdict, Bryan Fox, Mr. Fletcher’s solicitor, confirmed that twenty additional cases were being processed for people who had worked in the basement and in other contaminated areas of the public sector. Fox estimates that these cases could cost the government £1 million ($1.5 million) in awards plus another £1 million in legal costs. For more information on this case, Solicitor Fox can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
September 6, 2001