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Written on 3rd April 2020 by

It is often assumed that those diagnosed with an asbestos related disease used to work in shipyards, power stations, construction sites or boiler houses and carried out tasks which involved direct contact with asbestos. Whilst we see many asbestos claims where these types of jobs can be linked to the diagnosis of asbestos disease, the legacy of asbestos exposure spreads far and wide.

Boyes Turner’s asbestos and mesothelioma claims team have dealt with various claims involving less obvious sources of asbestos exposure.

Asbestos exposure in the workplace

The asbestos and mesothelioma claims team have seen many people diagnosed with mesothelioma who had had no obvious exposure to asbestos at work. For example, they may have worked in an office for their whole career and never once handled any products containing asbestos. However, they may have come into contact with others in the same workplace who did work with asbestos.

The team helped a woman who worked in an office job however she regularly walked through the workshop. Due to the work carried out in the workshop there was a lot of asbestos fibres in the air. The client will have breathed in the fibres as she walked back and forth across the workshop. The team also worked out that she had also sat next to colleagues in the canteen who wore overalls covered in asbestos dust.

Exposure from asbestos worker relatives

There are many sad cases of family members of people who worked with asbestos who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma.

It was often the case that people returned home after work each day, wearing overalls which were covered with asbestos dust. A loved one may have shaken the overalls out to get the dust off and, in the process, breathed in the deadly dust. This is known as ‘secondary exposure’. We have dealt with many claims where wives have been diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases after cleaning their husbands asbestos covered work clothes.

We once spoke to a witness in a case who described how his father used to work in an asbestos factory and would regularly bring home balls of dried asbestos for him and his siblings to play with. He recalled how he once took some to school with him for ‘show and tell’, completely unaware of the danger to himself and his classmates.

Environmental exposure to asbestos

The potentially tragic consequences of children playing with asbestos are illustrated in the history of Wittenoom, a town in Western Australia. The town was home to a blue asbestos mine, which was in operation from 1943 to 1966. 

The asbestos dust was commonly used by children as a sandpit. In fact, residents often gathered large quantities of the deadly dust to make asbestos sandpits in their gardens for the children to play in. Over 2000 former residents of the town have subsequently died due to asbestos related diseases.

Some of our, clients have also been diagnosed with an asbestos –related disease despite never having worked with asbestos or known anyone who has ever worked with it. There used to be a number of Turner & Newall and Cape Asbestos factories in the UK, which manufactured products containing asbestos. Some people were unfortunate enough to grow up near one of these factories, and were exposed to asbestos dust which escaped from the premises.

The team have dealt with a case for a woman who grew up in Bowburn, a small village on the outskirts of Durham, and was exposed to asbestos from the Cape Asbestos factory near her home. It was part of her everyday routine to clean the dust off the windows of her home and sweep it off her path. 

Despite being aware of the dangers long before, both Turner & Newall and Cape Asbestos continued to manufacture asbestos containing products into the 1990s. Thankfully, with all forms of asbestos having been banned in the UK since 1999, production has now ceased. Unfortunately, this is too late for the many people who grew up near asbestos factories and have already inhaled the deadly dust. However, even people who have not grown up near an asbestos factory are not necessarily safe from the possibility of environmental asbestos exposure. 

In 1983, a huge fire broke out at the army depot in Donnington, just north of Telford. The fire sent huge clouds of smoke, debris and dust into the air. As the roof contained asbestos, this led to huge quantities of asbestos containing ash falling all around the town. 

We previously dealt with a case for a resident of the town, who was only six years old at the time of the fire. She recalled how she played in the ash afterwards, pretending that it was snow. She later contracted mesothelioma and tragically passed away in 2008.

Asbestos exposure at school

We have dealt with cases involving people who were exposed to asbestos during their childhood when attending school. It used to be common for mats made with asbestos to be used in science lessons, to protect the tables when conducting experiments that involved the use of bunson burners.

We dealt with such a case recently, where our client was exposed to asbestos in science lessons when she was at school. She described how asbestos mats, which were grey and fibrous and in poor condition, were used under the bunson burners. The pupils used to break bits off them and throw them around. Many years later, she was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Before the case was concluded, she tragically passed away, leaving her husband and three children. 

There have also been cases where renovation work has been carried out in a school while the pupils were there. This may have disturbed asbestos containing materials that were used during the original construction of the school.

We have also dealt with cases where teachers have sadly been diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, having been exposed in the same fashion. 

This is perhaps unsurprising, given the extent to which asbestos is still present in schools in the UK. The National Education Union have stated that at least 86 per cent of schools still contain asbestos, all of it old and much of it deteriorating. They also state that there have been at least 363 school teachers that have died from mesothelioma.  In 2016 alone, 32 teaching professionals and 8 school support staff died from mesothelioma.    

Asbestos Exposure in the home

We have also encountered cases where people have been exposed to asbestos in their own home. We once acted for a lady who had been diagnosed with mesothelioma and did not have any obvious history of exposure to asbestos.

Upon making further investigations, we were able to ascertain that she was exposed while living in a property owned by Watford Borough Council.

While she was living in the property in the 1960s, the council carried out major renovation work, which involved removing the kitchen and bathroom and installing a boiler. 

She described asbestos tiles, a coal boiler with a large asbestos pipe and a step created using cement and asbestos, which the boiler was placed on and which was used to seal the pipework. As well as describing the work in the 1960s, our client went on to describe work undertaken in the early 1980s when the Council’s workmen came back to put in central heating. The asbestos step was smashed out and the boiler removed as central heating was put into the house.

The Council admitted that they negligently exposed Iris to asbestos dust and agreed to settle our client’s claim.

Cases like this are an indicator of the fact that asbestos exposure is now less typically found in traditional asbestos related employments. We are frequently encountering more unusual circumstances of asbestos exposure. No matter the circumstances of your exposure to asbestos dust, a claim for compensation may still be able to be pursued

Making an asbestos-related disease claim

When considering whether or not you may be able to make a claim for asbestos – related disease, if your exposure is not immediately obvious we will carry out thorough investigations. We will go through your employment history and that of your family and investigate whether you ever lived near an asbestos factory. 

We will consider all possible ways that you could have been exposed and advise you whether or not you may be able to claim. We will also advise you whether or not you may be entitled to claim any benefits as a result of your asbestos – related disease.

If you have any further questions about making a compensation claim after a mesothelioma diagnosis contact the specialist asbestos claims team by email at idclaims@boyesturner.com.