Public Spending Cuts Must Not Affect Asbestos Investigations, Says Scottish Lawyer

Councils Urged To Not Ignore Essential Work


A leading Scottish lawyer has urged local authorities not to forget the risk of asbestos in the face of major public spending cuts.

Elaine Russell, partner at national law firm Irwin Mitchell, is warning councils not to ignore the essential surveying and maintenance work needed to limit the devastating affects of this deadly material.

She said that it could be easy for local authorities not to prioritise the ‘silent killer’, which can kill people decades after initial exposure, and wants reassurances that asbestos in older public buildings will continue to be managed correctly.

She said: “Asbestos exposure is typically associated with industry but sadly the number of people from other sectors who are developing the disease is increasing all the time.

“We have handled a number of clients nationally who had no idea, right up until their diagnosis, that they had been exposed to asbestos. Many were doctors, nurses or teachers, who have been put at risk by the use of the material in the public buildings in which they worked.”

The warning came after a prominent Glaswegian doctor passed away at the age of 58, just 14 months after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, caused by exposure to asbestos in the hospitals where he worked.

Dr Kieran Sweeney had worked at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary and Southern General Infirmary during the late 1970s. There he encountered dust and debris from asbestos pipe lagging which, 30 years later in December 2009, caused his premature death.

Russell added: “Sadly we have every reason to believe that the incidence of mesothelioma and asbestos-related lung cancer cases will rise further and medical experts expect numbers to peak by around the year 2015. Even more worryingly, mesothelioma is now increasingly claiming younger victims in a wider range of occupations, including hospital staff.

“My worry is that with public spending facing major reductions, councils could ease up their efforts to tackle this silent killer. Local authorities cannot neglect their responsibility and must continue to dedicate resources to identifying and eliminating any remaining sources of asbestos, in order to prevent further tragic deaths, like that of Dr Sweeney.”

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