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Shropshire Star comment: The deadly legacy of asbestos

By Toby Neal | Opinions | Published:

Figures show that nearly 300 Salopians have died of asbestos-related cancer since the 1980s - and raise a disturbing possibility.

Are we seeing the detonation of a ticking timebomb?

The level of deaths would be worrying at any time. But there should be particular attention to these Shropshire deaths.

It is characteristic of asbestos-related cancer that it does not manifest itself until more than 20 years after the original exposure.

In the 1980s there were two major fires at COD Donnington, both of which released asbestos into the atmosphere. The first in June 1983 saw a large swathe covered with asbestos fallout. It landed in streets and gardens, and it was not until several days later that the potential danger was realised, by which time some people had already done their own clearups.

The second fire in 1988 was virtually a carbon copy.

For 20 years now the Donnington fires have been directly implicated in a number of deaths locally. One case was a Telford mother-of-three who, as a child, had played in the asbestos ashes thinking it was snow.

The inquest heard she had died from mesothelioma, which is an asbestos-related cancer. She was only 31.

The figures show that since 1981, when records began on deaths through mesothelioma, 190 people have died in the Shropshire Council area, and 98 in Telford & Wrekin.

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While on the face of it this might suggest that there is no elevated death rate in Telford & Wrekin, that may also be an interpretation we cannot put on the figures.

To better understand whether there is any linkage, we need to know where people were when they had the initial exposure, not where they were when they were diagnosed many years later.

Because of the extended timescale between exposure and manifestation, reaching firm conclusions is difficult, but if people have worked in industries which routinely brought them into contact with asbestos, it is reasonable to suppose that that was the source trigger for mesothelioma in later life, and indeed inquests regularly rule that death is due to industrial disease in such cases.

The risks are much better understood than they were, but the potential danger lurks anywhere where asbestos has been used, and this includes in the construction of buildings including schools.

We say potential danger, because it is breathing in asbestos fibres which is the killer. Leave asbestos alone, and it will generally leave you alone. Disturb it, break it up and create asbestos dust, and you are at serious risk.

Sadly, the nature of asbestos means we shall endure its malign legacy for years to come.

Toby Neal

By Toby Neal
Feature Writer

A journalist in Shropshire for 40 years, mainly writes features and columns, especially about aspects of Shropshire history. Lives in Telford and is based at the Ketley headquarters.

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