Increased number of asbestos-related deaths a ‘medical mystery’, says doctor
Material behind 108 victims dying from killer cancer
The number of deaths from lung cancer caused by asbestos in Kent has increased, according to the latest figures.
Last year, 108 people in the county died of mesothelioma, which is caused by exposure to the substance. That is 17 more fatalities than the previous year.
The natural fibrous material was used as an insulator for hundreds of years until 1992, when it became illegal to make products from it in the UK.
Medway had the highest number of deaths in Kent last year with 17, three more than in 2013.
The figure means Medway has the sixth highest death rate from mesothelioma in the UK.
Swale had the biggest increase last year compared to 2013, with the number of deaths shooting up from three to 13.
In Thanet, 12 people were killed by the disease in 2014 compared to five the previous year.
Dr Alan McKenna, a law teacher at the University of Kent who also campaigns on asbestosrelated issues, said: “We still don’t know the precise mechanism by which asbestos triggers mesothelioma. “It’s a medical mystery. “In certain towns, such as Ashford and Canterbury, the deaths have fallen. Why in Swale and Thanet are we seeing very large increases?
“Unless we look at the individual deaths, I don’t think we can answer why specifically those two parts of Kent have seen massive increases.
“For example, it could be that people who worked in Medway in the dockyard, where asbestos was used extensively, could have moved to Swale or Thanet and unfortunately passed away in these areas.”
After initial exposure to the material, it takes between 20 to 60 years before a person develops this type of cancer.
Each year more than 2,500 people are diagnosed with the disease in the UK, with men five times more likely to be diagnosed than women.
Dr McKenna added: “You can strip asbestos out of buildings completely but there is a massive cost issue, and the government aren’t going to fund it.
“Asbestos is in most cases the cause of mesothelioma.
“The argument is that it is perfectly acceptable to block it i n as best as you can to prevent the fibres escaping, effectively covering it up.
“What would be useful would be to have regular air monitoring in schools so you get a very accurate picture of the precise level of asbestos fibres at that time when the children are moving around the school.”
Dr Mckenna believes more money should be spent on research to prevent the number of deaths and find a cure for mesothelioma.
There are two types of the prolonged disease, the most common being pleural mesothelioma which develops in the tissue covering the lungs, and peritoneal mesothelioma, which develops in the lining of the abdomen.
Dr Alan McKenna from the University of Kent and campaigner on asbestos-related issues