Asbestos disease campaigners, politicians and unions are calling for urgent action to combat a deadly asbestos cancer. Deaths from mesothelioma, which is incurable and now kills in excess of 2,500 people a year, are still to peak in the UK, meaning tens of thousands more will die unless new treatments are found.
Hilda Palmer of the Hazards Campaign commented: “This is an industrial disaster on an unprecedented scale, and the death rate is still rising.
“Asbestos related cancer killed more people last year than in any other year in history, and the mesothelioma figures only tell a small part of the story. Lung cancers caused by exposure to asbestos at work kill at least as many people each year and possibly up to three times more. This means the annual work-related death toll from asbestos alone could exceed 10,000.”
Greater Manchester Asbestos Victims Support Group spokesperson Graham Dring said: “It is vital that the government commits research funding to give some hope to sufferers, most of whom contracted this disease simply by going to work.”
UCATT general secretary Steve Murphy said: “It is essential that… far more pressure is applied to politicians to ensure that training is improved for workers and that far greater funding is provided for treating and curing this terrible disease.”
Former Liberal MP Lord Alton, now a crossbench peer who has raised the issue in the Lords, called for mesothelioma to be made a national research priority, backed by funds from an insurance industry levy.
He said: “Just small sums from the insurance industry would make a huge difference to the future of mesothelioma research in the UK and could potentially lead to cures, saving tens of thousands of lives. There are an estimated 150 insurance firms: a small contribution from each could raise a vital £1.5 million each year for research.”
He added that a levy was a practical solution as parliament had already agreed levies for other purposes on the gambling, road transport, fossil fuel and pig industries. “There is no reason in principle why an employers’ liability insurance levy should not be supported,” he said.
Kate Green, the shadow minister for disabled people, said “a Labour government will make it our priority to secure the sustainable funding we need.”
The Hazards Campaign’s Hilda Palmer said the government and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) were determined not to learn the lessons of the asbestos epidemic and were instead letting other carcinogenic workplace substances, work patterns and exposures put possibly more than 1-in-5 UK workers at risk.
“Whether is silica, diesel exhaust, shiftwork or a slew of other known and commonplace workplace cancer risks, HSE’s message is ‘business as usual’. The workplace safety regulator has neither the teeth nor the stomach to save the next working generation from death by work-related cancer.”