Asbestos-related illnesses still killing more and more people each year

An increasing number of Tayside residents are falling victim to life-threatening asbestos-related illnesses, new figures have shown.

At least 109 people living in the NHS Tayside area were admitted to hospital last year for asbestos-related conditions.

A total of 130 were admitted the previous year, while five years ago just 74 cases presented annually.

It’s been confirmed that 14 people in the Dundee area died during 2011/12 from one of five asbestos-related conditions an increase of almost 30% since 2007.

The issue is particularly prevalent in the Tayside area, where a recent spate of work-related claims have highlighted the fatal health problems associated with asbestos.

These claims include that of Dundee painters Willie Stewart and Billy Tully.

Last month, Mr Tully filed a £20,000 claim against his former employers for unnecessarily exposing him to the hazardous material. Yet even those who have never worked directly with asbestos can still become a victim. George Anderson, a retired carpet salesman and lifelong Dundee resident, found out this year he had mesothelioma one of two deadly diseases that stem from asbestos exposure.

Physicians estimate that every five hours someone in the UK dies from mesothelioma. For Mr Anderson, who has never worked with the dangerous substance, the discovery was particularly distressing.

“I was quite looking forward to retiring at 70,” he said. “I told the wife we’d get a campervan and finally do some travelling. Of course, none of that has happened. I just went in for my first chemotherapy session two weeks ago, and I’ll be going back shortly for more. Hopefully it can slow the disease, but there’s no cure.”

According to Alison Blake, the manager of local charity group Asbestos Action Tayside, stories like Mr Anderson’s are becoming disturbingly common.

“We’ve had more numbers coming through our doors this year than ever, and I don’t suspect we’re going to see numbers come back down, either,” she said. “All the medical predictions are saying this disease hasn’t even peaked yet.”

While a vast majority of those who may be suffering from asbestos-related illnesses will have likely contracted their conditions in the 1960s and 1970s, Ms Blake emphasises that even in this day and age, the public must remain alert.

“We’ve still got asbestos in a lot of our schools, homes and offices,” she said. “People will continue to come across this material, and they absolutely must be aware that any sort of exposure can be extremely hazardous.”

Asbestos-related conditions are also on the rise across the country. Scotland’s Minister for Public Health, MSP Michael Matheson, formally disclosed the rising figures to Scottish Labour’s Siobhan McMahon.

Although Mr Matheson maintained that “acute asbestos poisoning is very rare”, the Government’s official numbers clearly indicate a recent spike in hospitalisations and deaths.