Asbestos-related cancer deaths in North Herts hit highest level since records began
- Credit: © Terry Harris
Asbestos-related cancer deaths in North Hertfordshire are at their highest level since records began, figures have revealed.
Charity Mesothelioma UK has warned that the danger posed by asbestos is often underestimated, and called for actions to rid buildings of the deadly substance.
Inhaling asbestos fibres can lead to mesothelioma, a lethal cancer affecting the lining of the lungs, which can take decades to develop.
Data from the Health and Safety Executive reveals that the disease caused the deaths of 24 people in North Herts between 2013 and 2017.
The number of people dying of the cancer is at the highest level since records began in the 1980s. From 1983 to 1987, just six deaths were reported.
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Nationwide, deaths caused by the cancer have almost quadrupled over 35 years, reaching nearly 13,000 at the latest count.
The UK has the highest incidence of mesothelioma in the world, due to the regular use of asbestos to construct buildings between 1940 and 1970.
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The material was banned in 1999, but damage to older buildings can release fibres into the air.
Liz Darlison, from Mesothelioma UK, said: "There is no safe level of asbestos exposure, and we should be doing much more to protect people, particularly children.
"The time from exposure to developing the disease can take several decades, which is why the level of concern is perhaps not fully appreciated.
"As a nation, we must take responsibility and rid our buildings of this cancer-causing substance, for the sake of our children, their children, and every generation in the future."
Kate Sweeney, personal injury lawyer at law firm Stephensons, said that many people consider asbestos "a problem of the past".
"This is simply not the case," she said.
"Asbestos-related illnesses do not only occur in tradespeople or people who have worked in the construction industry.
"This potentially deadly material has been used in all types of buildings, and is still present in many primary schools."
The Health and Safety Executive said that it expects mortality rates from mesothelioma to decline after 2020.
A spokesperson said: "Since the dangers of asbestos became clear, successive governments have, over many years, made a concerted and sustained effort to address the issue."