Asbestos-related cancers are claiming 2,500 lives a year despite expert predictions the death toll would peak several years ago.
And a leading asbestos lawyer warns an increasing number of “blue collar” workers, such as teachers, nurses and office staff, are becoming victims.
The disturbing trend is revealed ahead of the 20th anniversary of the banning of asbestos in Britain next weekend.
The move also put a duty on the owners of non-domestic properties, such as schools and hospitals, to manage asbestos within their buildings.
Since the ban, law firm Thompsons Solicitors has won £563m in compensation for more than 7,000 victims of the deadly killer dust.
Many victims develop mesothelioma, an aggressive lung cancer caused by contact with asbestos fibres, sometimes as long as 30 years earlier. It is almost always fatal, and often within 12 months of the onset of symptoms.
Louise Larkin, a senior asbestos lawyer at Thompsons, has been dealing with cases for 20 years and backs the Mirror’s Asbestos Timebomb campaign, which calls for an asbestos audit of all public buildings.
She also calls for a global ban on asbestos, which traditionally caused the deaths of dockers, building workers, plumbers and electricians who regularly came into contact with the material used extensively in ceilings and lagging pipes.
Ms Larkin said:”We are seeing a demographic change with blue collar workers, young women who came into contact with asbestos in hospitals and schools in the 1970s and 80s.
“Traditionally, it was workers in heavy industry who developed the disease.”
A recent Freedom of Information request found 198 out of 211 NHS Trusts have asbestos in the their buildings and she said it was “quite worrying” how many schools contain asbestos.
“We have got to have better management of asbestos, as long as it not disturbed it is safe, but all asbestos causes harm.”
The latest figures published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) confirmed that deaths are yet to peak and around 2,500 people continue to die from mesothelioma each year.
The figures are expected to peak in 2020, but previous predictions have suggested a peak in 2012, 2016 and 2018.
There were 2,087 male deaths in 2017, a slight reduction compared with recent years, and 439 female
deaths, a slight increase.
It compares with an average of 2560 per year over the period 2012 to 2016. The 2087 male and 439 female
deaths in 2017 compare with averages of 2150 and 410 deaths per year for males and females respectively
during 2012 to 2016.
The HSE report says “predictions suggest that the peak among females will occur later than in males (beyond 2020)”.
The long latency period (the time between initial exposure to asbestos and symptoms of the disease) of typically at least 30 years.
The HSE says that means most mesothelioma deaths occurring today are a result of exposures that occurred because of the widespread industrial use of asbestos during 1950-1980.
Earlier this year the Mirror revealed that more than 200 teachers have died in the past 10 years from the effects of being exposed to asbestos.
And for each teacher fatality, nine ex-pupils can also be expected to fall victim to the silent killer, a study claims – an average of almost 200 per year.
Some 86% of schools contain asbestos, a study found in 2015. The material was typically used in buildings between the 1940s and 1970s. Experts say it is a greater health risk as it gets older and starts to degrade.
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Since 2015, we have already allocated more than £7.4 billion to those responsible for school buildings to maintain and improve the school estate, including removing asbestos when it is the safest course of action.”
Devoted nurse Sandra Kellett would love to do nothing more than carry on caring for others.
But after 44 years of nursing, she is being denied her last wish by the cruel cancer mesothelioma.
Two years ago the 62-year-old grandmother was diagnosed with the killer disease, which she says has left her with just six months to live.
Her cancer was triggered by contact with asbestos fibres in a now demolished hospital in Wigan, Greater Manchester.
As a teenage nurse she walked the corridors of Billinge Hospital, a grim Victorian former work house, in 1975.
But workmen were always busy drilling, removing ceiling tiles and hammering on walls. She was unaware the dust settling on her uniform would give her a death sentence.
She lived in a nurses’ home at the hospital and on Sundays she would other scrub down the hospital theatre’s flaky walls, probably releasing asbestos fibres.
Mrs Kellett, of St Helen’s, Lancashire, said:”The workmen in the corridors put up plastic sheeting, but there was dust everywhere.Sandra Kellett has mesothelioma (Image: Internet Unknown)
“We were never warned. I have been a nurse, midwife and after 20 years in A&E, I have done a mature masters degree in clinical nursing. I am absolutely passionate about nursing.
“I would have liked to have carried on, but I was too ill with the chemotherapy.”
Her solicitor, Louise Larkin of Thompsons Solicitors, won her an undisclosed pay out and access to treatment not available on the NHS.
Mrs Kellett, a mother of three, said:”Any employer aware of asbestos should make their employees aware of it. It just destroys lives and I should have been warned of this.
“I am told I have six months to live and at the moment they are trying to give me some palliative chemotherapy.
“I would not not wish this on anybody, my grandchildren aged 14 months and three years old are not going to know who I was.”