The family of a woman from Cleckheaton are using the 20th anniversary of the ban on asbestos in the UK to urge greater awareness of the silent killer that was to ultimately claim her life.
Wife and stepmum Joan Northrop died aged 95 on 27 July 2019, four months to the day after she was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lung associated with asbestos exposure.
Prior to her death, Joan had instructed specialist asbestos related disease lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate how she developed mesothelioma. Attention turned to the years Joan had spent working for Scandi, usually called British Belting and Asbestos (BBA) in Cleckheaton.
Her family are now continuing her legal fight, in memory of a much loved wife and stepmum but also to call for greater awareness of the dangers of asbestos, as the UK prepares to mark 20 years since the total ban on all forms of the substance in November 1999.
The family’s call is intended to raise awareness of a substance that continues to claim 5,000 lives every year in the UK alone.
Expert Opinion“Joan’s case is another tragic example of the devastating consequences of asbestos exposure and just how long after initial exposure the disease can strike.”
While it is too late for Joan, her family want to continue to find answers, not just in her memory, but to raise awareness among others who may have been affected. This case is even more distressing given that Joan’s first husband died as a direct result of asbestos exposure too.
More people die from asbestos related diseases every year than on our roads and it’s hard to accept that 20 years after the ban, asbestos exposure is still claiming lives. This anniversary is an important moment to recognise that with asbestos present in so many buildings, awareness of needs to remain high. Workers, employers and those responsible for these buildings need to recognise the dangers the material will continue to pose for the foreseeable future.” Nicola Handley - Solicitor
Despite claims the numbers of deaths from asbestos related diseases had peaked, they still show no signs of slowing down. Annual deaths have increased steeply over the last 50 years and while numbers are now expected to decline, this has been predicted before. While death rates are higher among men, the number of women like Joan affected has continued to rise.
Born in Norristhorpe, Liversedge, Joan went onto work at BBA, where she met her first husband, Arthur Nichols, who died of an asbestos related disease in 1972. Arthur’s cause of death was given as Peritonitis “due to abdominal mesothelioma following exposure to asbestos while in the course of his employment”. After many years alone, Joan married Raymond Northrop in 1988 and became a stepmum to Ian and Keith. Raymond passed away in 2008.
Speaking about her mesothelioma diagnosis prior to her death, Joan said: “It was the shock of my life getting that diagnosis. I don’t have much else wrong with me. I was looking forward to getting to 100 and getting my telegram from the Queen.”
Joan worked at Scandi as a weaver after she married Arthur in 1943, where he was already an asbestos worker. Joan’s loom was next to where Arthur worked, and she recalled years later that he was so covered in asbestos by the end of a shift, that he looked like a snowman.
Joan said: “Working in those conditions was normal. It was the conditions you got used to. You just got on with it. I did not know at the time that asbestos was dangerous. No one at Scandi told me, there was no information or training about it, you just got on with your job.”
Having reached her 90s, Joan had set her heart on seeing her 100th birthday and receiving her telegram from the queen, so was devastated when she realised that her mesothelioma diagnosis meant that she would be unlikely to mark a milestone that had become so important to her.
Stepson Ian Northrop, said: “Joan was fit and well up until the diagnosis of mesothelioma. She still made sure that she went to the hairdressers every Tuesday and remained living at home independently. Joan was hopeful that she would reach the age of 100 and was very shocked by the devastating diagnosis of mesothelioma so many years after her employment at the BBA factory. Joan tried to remain active following the diagnosis but regrettably fell whilst out walking and rapidly deteriorated after having to move into a rehabilitation care home”.
Nicola added: “The worrying thing in terms of asbestos is our current models are based on past experience. The long latency period of asbestos means it is not so easy to see how exposure might have affected those from the 80s and 90s onwards, as exposure shifted from construction workers to those who may have unwittingly come into contact with the substance in the workplace. Only greater awareness will see these numbers start to fall.”
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