In­creased num­ber of as­bestos-re­lated deaths a ‘med­i­cal mys­tery’, says doc­tor

Ma­te­rial be­hind 108 vic­tims dy­ing from killer can­cer

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - Fatal Illness - By Josie Han­nett

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

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