DOZENS of men and women are dying every year from ‘Swindon Disease’ as the deadly legacy of workplace exposure to asbestos continues to takes its toll.
The most recent figures show 107 people have died from industrial-related illnesses in Swindon and Wiltshire in the past three years alone.
The region is part of a wider timebomb which, under the worst-case scenario, could claim 2,100 lives nationally at its peak in 2016.
The building material was so prevalent at Swindon’s railway works and other factories that mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer, and other related illnesses were nicknamed after the town.
Former employees have described how fibres of the chemical used to blow around like “snow” at the works, which closed in March 1986. Many remained healthy into retirement only to be struck down a couple of years after diagnosis.
Years of legal battles culminated in a landmark decision in March which gave victims and their families a chance to win compensation from firms that exposed them to the substance.
The Supreme Court ruled insurance liability was triggered from the time an employee came into contact with the substance, rather than the point at which symptoms appeared.
The decision will pave the way for hundreds of new claims, judging by figures obtained from the Wiltshire coroner’s office under the Freedom of Information Act.
Last year 26 men and four women died from industrial diseases, compared with 37 men and eight women in 2010 and 28 men and four women in 2009.
Rachael Wilson, of Bristol and Beyond Asbestos, is helping to deal with an aftermath that goes much further than Swindon and the railway works “The people affected include engineers, carpenters and workers in other trades, but there are also other people who haven’t necessarily been directly exposed,” she said.
“They include people who have lived near factories, or wives who have washed their husbands’ overalls.
“We have also had teachers who have been exposed at schools where asbestos has been present in cupboards used to store equipment.”
The support group, which has grown to 40 members since launching a year ago, will remember victims next month by releasing balloons at Bristol Harbourside.
Virginia Chalmers, head of industrial disease at Lyons Davidson, only has to look out of her office window in the city to see why the chemical is continuing to claim lives. “The number of deaths has still not peaked, unfortunately, and it is increasing despite the fact asbestos has not been used for decades,” she said.
“The disease takes between 15 and 60 years to develop and many of the people becoming ill now were exposed in the 50s, 60s and 70s.
“More than two million buildings in this country still have asbestos in them.
“I looked out of my office window recently and saw workmen scraping moss off the roof. They were also scraping off asbestos fibres and discharging them into the atmosphere. When I told them what was happening, they said the guy who asked them to do the job told them not to worry.”
The majority of cases stem from employees breathing in fibres in industrial workplaces, but there are other sources of contact adding to the figures.
For more, visit www.hse.gov.
uk and search for ‘asbestos’. For more about Bristol and Beyond Asbestos visit www.
bristolasbestossupport.co.uk or call 0117 394 5009.