Mesothelioma Presence in the UK

The United Kingdom has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma in the world, largely because the U.K. used brown asbestos and its government permitted the use of chrysotile asbestos years after other countries outlawed it.

Asbestos use in the U.K. began in the late 1800s to insulate ships, steam engines and power plants. By the 1970s, it was widely used in construction throughout Britain. Even though U.K. researchers were publishing studies on the dangers of asbestos as early as the 1930s, it wasn’t until 1999 that the U.K. banned all types of asbestos. 

Brown asbestos, also known as amosite asbestos, was used in insulation board throughout the U.K. Researchers believe this type of asbestos contributes to Britain’s high rate of mesothelioma because it is extremely carcinogenic.

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Mesothelioma Statistics in the UK

According to statistics published by Cancer Research UK and the Health and Safety Executive in 2021:

  • Mesothelioma statistics show that 1 in 212 males and 1 in 963 females will develop mesothelioma in the U.K.
  • Roughly 2,400 people die of mesothelioma annually in the U.K.
  • Approximately 7% of mesothelioma patients survived longer than five years between 2013 and 2017.
  • About 94% of cases are considered preventable.
  • An estimated 94% of cases are caused by occupational asbestos exposure.

Most U.K. residents who die from the disease are older than 65. Men make up about 80% of people who receive a mesothelioma diagnosis in the U.K., which also fits the worldwide profile for this cancer.

Since the early 1990s, the U.K. mesothelioma incidence rate has increased by approximately 57%. The incidence rate in women increased about 93%, and the rate in men increased by 47% from 2016-2018. Women are often exposed to asbestos indirectly by living in areas near asbestos factories or living with people who worked with asbestos.

Who Is at Risk in the UK?

Certain occupations required workers to use asbestos-containing products because they provided excellent protection from heat, saltwater and chemical corrosion. These properties also make it difficult for the body to break down asbestos, which leads to an accumulation of asbestos fibers inside the body.

Shipyard Workers

People in the U.K. who worked in the shipbuilding industry prior to the 1980s and who served aboard a ship containing asbestos are at high risk for mesothelioma. Ships were built with asbestos insulation and other asbestos products. When ships are retrofitted, maintained or repaired, there is a risk of asbestos fibers becoming airborne.

Veterans

U.K. military veterans have a disproportionately high rate of mesothelioma compared to the general population because of the asbestos exposure they endured serving their country. A 2021 article in the European Journal of Oncology Nursing suggested that more veterans needed help navigating health and military systems for mesothelioma support and resources.

Construction Workers

Construction workers in the UK are another high-risk group, primarily because asbestos was so prevalent for so long in the country’s older buildings and residences. Structures erected or renovated prior to 2000 are likely to contain asbestos. By comparison, buildings constructed after the 1980s in the United States are presumed to have only a minimal amount of asbestos.

Other occupations facing a high risk of exposure include:
  • Carpenters
  • Joiners
  • Plumbers
  • Boilermakers
  • Electricians
  • HVAC engineers
  • Plasterers
  • Roofing contractors
  • Demolition crews
  • Painters
  • Pipefitters
  • Maintenance workers
  • Teachers

Mesothelioma by Location in the UK

The UK’s Health and Safety Executive, also known as HSE, shows there has been a slight decrease in the number of deaths from mesothelioma in most of the country’s regions. For example, rates for males in Wales are now similar to rates in Scotland, while higher rates were documented in England. 

Vintage aerial image of works from asbestos products catalogue of Cape Asbestos Company Limited in Barking, Essex, UK.

Unfortunately, an upward trend in deaths for women was found in all regions. 

Asbestos was widely used in factories, chemical plants, power plants, refineries, commercial buildings and schools in the UK. Studies conducted in the past when asbestos was widely used show higher rates of mesothelioma around facilities that heavily used asbestos or produced asbestos products.

Anyone working at these facilities or living nearby was at risk of inhaling asbestos fibers

20 MOST AFFECTED UK SITES:
  • Barking and Dagenham
  • Barrow-In-Furness
  • Crewe and Nantwich
  • Eastleigh
  • Glasgow City
  • Gosport
  • Hartlepool
  • Havant
  • Inverclyde
  • Medway
  • Newcastle-Upon-Tyne
  • Newham
  • North Tyneside
  • Plymouth
  • Portsmouth
  • Renfrewshire
  • South Tyneside
  • Southampton
  • Sunderland
  • West Dunbartonshire

In the 1970s, it became apparent that cases of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases were on the rise in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Legislators recognized it was necessary to take action to control and possibly ban the use of this toxic material, and hospitals realized they needed to account for people who required specialized treatment for this rare cancer.

Asbestos Products in the UK

A few dozen producers of asbestos products may be responsible for the exposure of thousands of individuals to asbestos fibers. These companies employed tens of thousands of individuals who were likely exposed to asbestos on the job.

Square asbestos cooking mats with crimped metal protective edges

Companies such as Turner & Newall — based in Manchester — produced asbestos cloth, asbestos cement sheets and a variety of other products that made workers sick. Johns Manville was another manufacturer that made many asbestos building products.

Many buildings in the U.K. were constructed with asbestos insulation, cement, shingles, siding, wallboard and tiles. Many structures are still contaminated with asbestos and continue to present a danger for individuals performing renovations or demolition on these older structures.

In addition, several thousand household and automotive products used by U.K. residents often contained asbestos.

PRODUCTS CONTAINING ASBESTOS:
  • Ovens
  • Hair dryers
  • Irons and ironing board covers
  • Toasters
  • Stove-top pads
  • Brake pads and linings
  • Clutch facings

Exposure to household asbestos products is not considered as dangerous as working directly with asbestos products on the job, but it should still be avoided.

Mesothelioma Treatment Centers in the UK

Not every hospital in the U.K. has mesothelioma specialists on staff, but they can be found at prestigious hospitals throughout Britain. 

The Royal Marsden Hospital, with locations in London and Surrey, offers mesothelioma treatment, and it is one of the best cancer hospitals in the U.K. The Royal is also the oldest dedicated cancer hospital in the world. The hospital has the latest treatment options and conducts mesothelioma clinical trials.

St. George’s Hospital, University of London is home to Dr. Angus Dalgleish, a mesothelioma specialist who has been involved in clinical trials for mesothelioma in addition to serving as a medical oncologist for this rare cancer. The hospital is one of the largest in Europe and is known for its cancer care, cardiac care and bone marrow transplantations. 

OTHER UK TREATMENT CENTERS:
  • The Christie Hospital (Manchester)
  • Glenfield Hospital (Leicester)
  • Guy’s Hospital (London)
  • The London Chest Hospital (London)
  • St. Bartholomew’s Hospital (London)
  • London Lung Cancer Centre- London Bridge Hospital (London)
  • Papworth Hospital (Cambridge)

Mesothelioma Clinical Trials

While the U.K. may not have as many clinical trials as the U.S. or Europe, they have investigated a wide range of therapeutics ranging from immunotherapy to surgery to prophylactic radiation of surgery scars.

Currently, several clinical trials are investigating targeted therapies, immunotherapy, chemotherapy and methods to improve the diagnostic process.

For example, a trial of pembrolizumab, known by the brand name Keytruda, in combination with radiation therapy is underway for patients with recurring mesothelioma. 

Another trial is investigating an experimental drug known as RSO-021 for treatment of malignant pleural effusion. The drug works by blocking a cancer cell’s ability to manage its toxic waste, leading to cell death.

Mesothelioma Lawsuits and Compensation in the UK

According to a 2014 report by the U.K. Department for Work & Pensions, average compensation awarded in mesothelioma lawsuits ranged from £137,000 to £153,531. 

Because mesothelioma cases increased in the second half of the 20th century, the U.K. government began to acknowledge the connection between asbestos exposure and asbestos-related diseases of the lungs. Legislation is now in place to protect those who were sickened by asbestos, as well as those who still encounter asbestos that remains in buildings throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In October 2007, the House of Lords unanimously decided that compensation would not be awarded to individuals who had developed pleural plaques because of asbestos exposure in the course of their employment. 

Pleural plaques were determined to be only a marker of exposure, not a disease, even though pleural plaques are considered a pre-cancerous condition. Thousands of affected individuals were denied compensation as a result. Prior to 2007, individuals could claim compensation for pleural plaques caused by an employer’s negligence.

In 2008, a nine-week hearing was held in the United Kingdom to settle the argument as to when an insurers’ liability is triggered in cases involving insured persons with mesothelioma. 

Determining who is liable is difficult because the disease can take 20 to 50 years to develop, and most mesothelioma victims worked for one or more companies that used asbestos. A mesothelioma diagnosis is typically not given until many years after exposure has occurred, which can mean that insurance coverage has changed.

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Asbestos-Related Regulations in the UK

Asbestos prohibition laws in the United Kingdom were first introduced in the mid-1980s. In 1985, the U.K. banned the import and use of crocidolite and amosite, or blue and brown asbestos, respectively. This rule was replaced in 1992 with a law that also banned some uses of chrysotile asbestos, which is traditionally considered less lethal than the other forms of asbestos.

Quick Fact
In 1999, the U.K. government banned the use and import of chrysotile asbestos.

Other asbestos-related laws passed during the 1990s stipulated that work on any asbestos insulation products may only be carried out by a licensed asbestos professional. 

Asbestos-at-work regulations have set maximum exposure limits and require that all asbestos be identified and managed properly. Regulations also require that employees at risk for asbestos exposure be trained in asbestos safety precautions.

Control of Asbestos Regulations Act

The U.K.’s Control of Asbestos Regulations Act combined the above legislation into one single law that prohibits the use, supply and importation of all asbestos. This law prevents new uses of asbestos but allows existing asbestos-containing materials to remain intact if they are in good condition and undisturbed. 

The 2006 act also set maximum exposure limits and demanded that anyone who was at risk of encountering asbestos on the job is trained to properly handle the material.

The following asbestos products and work activities relating to asbestos were outlawed in the U.K. by the Control of Asbestos Regulations Act, unless the products were manufactured prior to November 1999:

  • Spraying of asbestos materials as a surface coating
  • Use of low-density insulating or soundproofing materials made from asbestos
  • Importation of asbestos-containing products
  • Use of asbestos cement
  • Use of boards, panels or tiles covered in asbestos paint or plasters

The Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 Act updated previous regulations to comply with the European Commission’s opinion that the U.K. had yet to completely implement the European Union Directive on asbestos exposure. 

This measure didn’t change prior regulations, but it rather added more requirements to improve safety measures of non-licensed asbestos work. Such measures included reporting non-licensed asbestos work to the relevant enforcing authority, keeping written records of the work and having workers under medical surveillance.

Controlling Asbestos at Work

The Asbestos Regulations of 1969 were the first U.K. laws designed to help control asbestos exposure in the workplace, but statutory control procedures were not introduced until nearly 20 years later when the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations (1987) was put into effect.

In 1993, those laws were amended to make it mandatory to substitute other suitable, safer products for asbestos wherever possible. In 2002, the bill was amended again to require that all workplaces identify any existing asbestos-containing materials and manage them to ensure the safety of workers.

Pleural Plaques and Scottish Law

In 2009, Scotland passed the Damages Act to ensure the House of Lords ruling from October 2007 would not affect cases in Scotland. 

The Damages Act allows compensation for individuals who have developed pleural plaques because of asbestos exposure. Insurers tried appealing the 2009 legislation, noting that plaques do not necessarily lead to poor health, but they lost on appeal in April 2011.

Asbestos Licensing Laws

In 1983, the Health & Safety Executive, also known as HSE, passed legislation which stated that all contractors working with asbestos insulation or coating had to be licensed through the HSE. Asbestos insulation board was added to the list of license-required materials in 1998.

Under the 2006 Control of Asbestos Regulations, nearly all work involving asbestos insulation products must be performed by a licensed professional. 

The law also states that work must be performed in accordance with the approved code of practice, and any plans for the removal of asbestos must be submitted to the HSE at least two weeks prior to the beginning of work.

Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents

The mission and vision of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) is to save lives, reduce injuries and lead the way on accident prevention. The organization, which started in 1916, has spearheaded pedestrian safety, analyzing accident causes, home safety guidelines and occupational health risk campaigns, including raising awareness of asbestos-related illnesses and how to prevent them.

The charity provides an asbestos training course that includes an explanation of the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2012, as well as how to manage asbestos risks and understand the dangers of exposure.

RoSPA’s National Occupational Safety & Health Committee is a voluntary association of people drawn from organizations representing a broad cross-section of occupational safety and health interests. 

It is an advisory committee to the RoSPA and helps identify the ways and means of improving occupational safety and health, while also shaping RoSPA policy and key issues. It also covers several topics, including asbestos and work-related cancer, as part of its Occupational Health Risks Campaigns.

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