Asbestos Profile: United Kingdom 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen

 

 

During the 20th century, more than 6 million tonnes of asbestos were imported into the UK. The import of raw asbestos increased more than seven-fold between 1930 (24,000 tonnes) and 1975 (174,000 tonnes). The use of all types of asbestos was finally banned in 1999 but by then the widespread and often unregulated use of asbestos had produced an epidemic unrivalled in the country's history of occupational health [Mesothelioma: A National Tragedy, Mesothelioma: The British Disease]. Independent sources believe that the number of cumulative asbestos-induced deaths which will occur in the UK between 1929-2020 could reach 663,000-820,000.

From the very beginning of the 20th century, UK asbestos producers exploited every opportunity, both legal and otherwise, to avoid their asbestos-related liabilities. They lied to their workers, consumers and the Government about the hazards of asbestos exposure and deliberately adopted legal strategies to minimize their liabilities in the UK and abroad [see: T&N Ltd: UK Courts Intervene and Humane Decision by House of Lords in Fairchild Case, The First International Conference of Asbestos Information Bodies]. These practices have continued [Patience Runs Out As Cape Reneges on Settlement Agreement, Barker Overturned by Parliament, Rights of British Mesothelioma Victims Restored, Fat Cats & British Insurers, Small Change: British Insurers and Mesothelioma]. A case in point is the asbestos-contamination of the country's schools; despite mounting evidence, local authorities and national agencies continue to deny the elevated incidence of asbestos-related illness amongst school teachers and custodial staff [Asbestos Hazard in UK Schools, Children and Asbestos: A Bad Mix!].

Over time, the country's National Health Service has regarded asbestos-related diseases as low priority with the result that treatment options appear to be dependent on a post-code lottery [UK Approval for Asbestos Cancer Drug]. To fight for victims' legal and medical rights, asbestos sufferers, family members and supporters formed campaigning groups, the earliest of which were started in the 1970s [The Asbestos War, Pleural Plaques Protest]. British mesothelioma widow Nancy Tait started the first group anywhere in the world to provide support the people suffering from asbestos-related diseases [see: In Memory of Nancy Tait]. Largely thanks to these groups and others like them, the plight of UK asbestos sufferers has been much improved [Victims' Support Groups in England, Asbestos in Scotland, Action Mesothelioma Day 2009, Mesothelioma in an English Village, Merseyside Asbestos Victims Support Group, Interpretation of “The Female Face of Britain's Asbestos Catastrophe”, British Campaign for Asbestos Justice: An Update]. A remarkable breakthrough was the implementation on October 1, 2008 of regulations which provide universal compensation for all mesothelioma sufferers in the UK [Universal Mesothelioma Compensation].

Essential background reading on this subject includes: Defending the Indefensible - The Global Asbestos Industry and its Fight for Survival by Jock McCulloch and Geoffrey Tweedale (2008) [see: Barry Castleman's Review of this book]; Magic Mineral to Killer Dust by Geoffrey Tweedale (2000); Lethal Work - A History of the Asbestos Tragedy in Scotland by Ronald Johnston and Arthur McIvor (2000); and Asbestos Killer Dust by Alan J. Dalton (1979). A contemporaneous and authoritative source of information is the British Asbestos Newsletter; over twenty years of issues can be accessed on its website at: http://www.britishasbestosnewsletter.org/

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Updated August 2013

 

 

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