Action Mesothelioma Day, which takes place on 5 July 2019, aims to raise awareness about the dangers of asbestos exposure while highlighting the need for additional funding for mesothelioma treatment and care.

Ahead of Action Mesothelioma Day, one of Thompsons Solicitors’ senior asbestos lawyers Lorna Webster explains what you need to know about asbestos, and what you can do if you think you have been exposed to it.

What is asbestos?

Asbestos is a raw material and can be in blue, brown or white – white being the most commonly used in the UK before all asbestos use was banned. All three types of asbestos are dangerous to health, but blue asbestos is generally recognised as the most toxic.

Until it was banned in the UK in 1999, asbestos was widely used in many industries, particularly in construction, ship building and manufacturing. It came in many forms including loose fibres used for lagging, cloth, smooth and corrugated sheeting, flooring, ceiling tiles, fluffy insulation, wet liquid for insulation, rope and even paper.

Asbestos dangers: What are the risks associated with exposure?

Not everyone exposed to asbestos will develop an asbestos related condition. However, exposure to asbestos can potentially lead to a number of health complications, some of which are fatal. Examples you may have heard of include:

• Mesothelioma, a tumour which is always fatal;
Asbestosis, a slowly progressing lung disease;
• Asbestos-related lung cancer, often caused by smoking but can be caused by exposure to asbestos also;
Pleural thickening, damage to the lining of the rib cage and lungs;
• Pleural plaques, a very minor asbestos related condition, which is an indicator you have come across asbestos somewhere.

The Health and Safety Executive reported that there were 22,471 deaths from mesothelioma during the first decade of the 21st century. Despite being banned for almost two decades, it appears that asbestos-related deaths have not yet peaked.

Where am I likely to have been exposed to asbestos?

Asbestos was widely used between the 1950s and the 1980s in lots of different buildings and workplaces.

In your past or present workplaces, asbestos may have been used as lagging on pipework – especially in boiler houses or plant rooms. You might also come across it as paper on fuse boards, and as insulation in lofts and basements, where a lot of electrical wiring is often kept. You may also have come across asbestos ceiling tiles when gaining access to ceiling voids.

Only buildings built from 2000 onwards can safely be assumed to contain no asbestos. Worryingly, asbestos remains present in the fabric of many workplaces built and renovated prior to 1999.

How long does it take to develop an asbestos-related disease?

On average, it will take 40 to 60 years for symptoms of asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma to start after the exposure. However, it can be as low as 10 years from exposure in some rare cases and upwards of 60 years in other cases.

What are the symptoms?

Signs of mesothelioma often include feeling short of breath, suffering from persistent coughs and wheezing, tiredness and chest pain.

What should I do if I think I’ve been exposed to asbestos?

If you experience any combination of the symptoms stated above, and are concerned that you have been exposed to a type of asbestos such as mesothelioma, then the key thing do is speak to your GP. Tell the GP that you have worked in environments likely to contain asbestos and ask to be referred for a chest x-ray, to ensure all is okay.

What should I do if I have been diagnosed with an asbestos related condition?

A diagnosis is daunting, but there is lots of support available to you. If you’ve received an asbestos related diagnosis, contact our asbestos disease lawyers for free no obligation advice about making a claim on 0800 0 224 224.