Mesothelioma Death Rate Still Rising in Great Britain

Asbestos warning on boarded up building

Despite banning all forms and uses of asbestos 20 years ago, Great Britain still has one of the world’s highest rates of mesothelioma cancer, according to the government’s Health and Safety Executive report.

The July 2019 report revealed the number of annual deaths from mesothelioma in the country still is peaking and expected to begin a gradual decline in 2020.

The report included 2,523 deaths in 2017 (the last year available) from mesothelioma, the rare and aggressive cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.

It estimates as many as 2,637 others could die in 2019.

Great Britain, which comprises the nations of England, Scotland and Wales, averaged 2,560 deaths attributed to mesothelioma from 2012 to 2016.

The island banned amosite and crocidolite asbestos — the two most toxic types — in 1985 and completed the ban in 1999 by adding chrysotile asbestos.

The report illustrates that it takes several decades after an asbestos ban before seeing a sharply reduced number of mesothelioma deaths.

“Countries with bans have had to wait 30 or more years before seeing a reduced incidence rate,” mesothelioma specialist Dr. Raja Flores, a thoracic surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, told The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com. “But a ban is better than doing nothing.”

Mesothelioma Not Going Away

There have been more than 2,000 deaths attributed to mesothelioma in Great Britain each year since 2005.

The annual number is not expected to dip below 2,000 again until 2029.

Mesothelioma’s long latency period of 20 to 50 years is the biggest reason for the peak of deaths coming two decades after asbestos was banned.

It is typically not diagnosed until the later stages, when symptoms become more obvious, and when it is much more difficult to treat.

Another reason is asbestos that will remain in place long after the ban of new products has become law.

The use of asbestos in Great Britain peaked between the 1950s and 1970s, used as a fire retardant and insulator for commercial and residential construction.

Asbestos also was used ubiquitously in the shipbuilding industry, which is huge in Great Britain.

Aging Accentuates the Danger

Asbestos is found today in a range of older products still being used, including cement, surface coating, roofing, and plumbing that was put in place before 1985.

It becomes especially dangerous when aging asbestos materials are disturbed during any renovation, remodeling or demolition of the products.

Recent publication of the 2019 Health and Safety Executive report prompted the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health to issue a national warning to the public, particularly tradesmen working with the products.

The warning addressed those working in older hospitals, detailing how staff and patients can protect themselves during any renovations.

Also targeted in the warning was the Department of Education and more than 700 schools throughout the Great Britain which have been cited for failing to manage asbestos.

Removal Only Makes It Worse

Trade unions and parents throughout Great Britain have been pressuring the government to spend billions to remove all asbestos from older schools, yet some experts believe that job would only endanger more people as fibers become airborne.

“It isn’t clear to me that the exposures are high enough,” said Julian Peto, epidemiologist at the Academy of Medical Sciences in London. “And in particular, it isn’t clear to me that to do something about it wouldn’t increase the risk.”

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Senior Content Writer

Tim Povtak is an award-winning writer with more than 30 years of reporting national and international news. His specialty is interviewing top mesothelioma specialists and researchers, reporting the latest news at mesothelioma cancer centers and talking with survivors and caregivers.

3 Cited Article Sources

  1. Webber, A. (2019, July 9). Asbestos fatality figures highlight need for continued precautions.
    Retrieved from: https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/asbestos-fatality-figures-highlight-need-for-continued-precautions/
  2. HSE. (2019, July). Mesothelioma in Great Britain.
    Retrieved from: http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/mesothelioma/mesothelioma.pdf
  3. Perraudin, F. (2019, July 7). Britain’s death toll from asbestos at crisis level, figures reveal. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jul/07/britains-death-toll-from-asbestos-at-crisis-level-figures-reveal

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