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Eradicating asbestos for future generations - fix it before it breaks

You might think that after fully banning the use of asbestos in new buildings over two decades ago (Amosite & Crocidolite were banned in 1985 and Chrysotile was banned in 1999), that we’d be further down the road to eradicating asbestos entirely ­­- and asbestos-related diseases would be a fading sight in the rear-view mirror. 

Tragically, though, that is not the case. According to official figures, asbestos-related diseases account for more premature deaths in Britain than road accidents.

Exposure to asbestos can lead to a number of diseases including pleural thickening, asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

It is usual to associate asbestos-related diseases with substantial exposure to asbestos dust, most likely at a time when it was common for someone to machine cut asbestos sheets or dry sweep debris. But there is no safe limit of exposure, and even the smallest amount of asbestos dust or fibres can lead to a diagnosis of mesothelioma.

Prior to its use being banned in the UK, asbestos was present in a number of products commonly used in residential homes, hospitals and commercial buildings such as lagging on pipes, textured wall coatings, floor/ceiling tiles and insulating boards for partitioning.

Under the current asbestos regulations, non-domestic premises that contain asbestos must be assessed and are likely to be subject to a plan to manage the asbestos-containing materials in situ, for asbestos that goes undisturbed is not considered dangerous. However, as buildings deteriorate, so inevitably will the asbestos containing within them. So why, then, is asbestos still present in buildings today?

Recent investigations into the presence of asbestos in NHS premises have revealed that at least 451 NHS premises and buildings in London alone contain asbestos.

Following the report, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) is calling on a future Labour government to include asbestos removal as part of a large scale retrofit programme of all public buildings. The current government only last year refused a proposal to set a 40 year deadline to remove asbestos from non-domestic buildings. In view of this report, will they change their stance? I certainly hope so.

As a solicitor who handles asbestos-related personal injury claims, I have witnessed the devastation that asbestos-related diseases can cause to sufferers and their friends and family. In order to keep future generations from suffering from the continuing mistakes of the past, much more needs to be done. 

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting people and families affected by mesothelioma and other diseases at our dedicated asbestos-related disease section.