A local solicitor is speaking out about the legacy of Essex’s industrial past and the high rate of deaths in the county due to asbestos exposure.

Lorna Webster, head of Thompsons Solicitors’ South East specialist asbestos team, has lived in Essex all her life and is campaigning for more families to be aware of the effects of asbestos.

Asbestos, most commonly used in construction, manufacturing and shipping during the 1950-80s, was eventually banned from use in the UK in 1999 despite its risks being known as far back as the start of the twentieth century. The health consequences of exposure, which can take many years to develop, include serious diseases like mesothelioma (a fatal asbestos-related cancer).

A report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published last year (2017) found that Barking and Dagenham has the highest ratio of female mesothelioma deaths in the country, and also one of the highest rates for men. As someone who works and lives locally, this is a real concern for Lorna but comes as no shock.

“Companies previously based in Essex including Ford, Tate & Lyle, the Central Electricity Generating Board and British Rail all used asbestos extensively during the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. On our doorstep in Barking, the Cape Asbestos factory was churning out asbestos materials constantly until the factory closed down in the late 1960s. Essex workers and their families are now paying the price, through no fault of their own,” Lorna said.

Lorna’s concern is that hundreds of people in Essex, who are suffering from asbestos-related diseases, may not recognise the symptoms or know what to do if they are diagnosed. A particular group who may not make the link between their symptoms and an asbestos-related condition are women who washed the work clothes of their husbands, or even those who were children at the time and hugged their dads when they came home from work.

She continues: “Local people who just went to work are at risk years later of developing asbestos-related conditions, but so are their families who they went to work to provide for. It’s a double tragedy and a bitter irony.” 

Based in Thompsons Solicitors’ Dagenham office, Lorna has helped hundreds of people exposed to asbestos in the Essex area for almost 20 years, but she says the number of cases has still not peaked in number.

“There are currently approximately 2,500 people being diagnosed with mesothelioma every year in the UK, but it is predicted this number will go up further over the next few years. On top of that mesothelioma figure, there are thousands more people each year being diagnosed with other asbestos-related conditions.”

"Essex workers and their families are now paying the price, through no fault of their own."

Lorna Webster
Specialist Asbestos Solicitor at Thompsons Solicitors