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Deadly Lessons: Asbestos Risk Remains Throughout UK

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Hazardous asbestos remains a ticking time bomb around the country, as more people develop conditions and diseases due to exposure — and mesothelioma claims continue to rise

The news earlier this month that hundreds of school buildings in Kent contain asbestos was a stark reminder of the continuing threat we all face from this potentially deadly material, including in our homes and places of work (even on the set of Eastenders).

A total of 344 schools of all levels of education, including primary, secondary and special needs, were found to contain large amounts of asbestos throughout the buildings — and it’s propelling ongoing mesothelioma claims. The fibrous material was, for decades, widely used for insulation and other purposes in buildings throughout the UK, until it was found to cause a number of potentially fatal cancers and other conditions, and banned by the government.

As many schools operate in older buildings that may have been insulated with asbestos many years ago, they're particularly at risk. Tragically, several hundred teachers working in these buildings have developed mesothelioma, a deadly asbestos-caused cancer, in the last few decades. So far, a dozen personal injury claims cases relating to asbestos have been brought against Kent County Council, which has admitted liability in eight of them and paid out a total of £842,958 in compensation. For its part, the Council provides guidelines for dealing with waste asbestos.

Forecast of a Massive Rise in Mesothelioma Claims

A large part of the difficulty with asbestos-related diseases is they don't develop soon after exposure to the material. In fact, it can often take many years, or decades in some cases, for symptoms to appear. Many people, especially builders and those in industrial settings, who worked with asbestos for decades, may think they’re out of the woods, only to be struck down much later in life and making mesothelioma claims.

Indications and warning signs that something is not right can include an array of issues, including a cough that won't go away, sudden tiredness, fatigue and a fever. They can also include pain along one side of the chest or in the lower back region, as well as weight loss, sweating and difficulty swallowing food.

In the time between initial exposure and being diagnosed with an illness, businesses may have moved, closed, been sold off or even gone bankrupt. Insurers may well have done the same, meaning trying to get compensation can prove problematic.

But such is the sheer scale of the problem of asbestos around the nation, it's estimated that the number of people in the UK with mesothelioma has nearly doubled in the last decade and seems set to continue rising, as more people unfortunately develop the disease over time.

What's all that likely to cost in mesothelioma claims? The projection, by the industry's UK Asbestos Working Party, is a whopping £11 billion in compensation paid out from 2009 right up to 2050. This is still very much an estimate, however, as party chairman Brian Gravelson states: “There is still considerable uncertainty surrounding the future cost of asbestos claims, as the number of people that will be diagnosed with mesothelioma many years into the future cannot be accurately predicted.”

Asbestos Claims and the Way Ahead

So it's not a huge leap of faith to say that the whole entangled issue of asbestos and related claims in this country remains something of a great unknown. But the fact that so many people are affected, with possibly waves more to come in the ensuing decades, is leading to fears that there may be insufficient reserves among insurers to deal with compensation payouts.

The industry has seen a 32% rise in the number of mesothelioma claims over a period of two years, due to what it calls an "increased propensity" to make claims when there's a death from the disease. Indeed, with cases regularly hitting the headlines, especially when there are large payouts, people are now more aware of their rights to claim than ever.

With the HSE projecting annual deaths from mesothelioma in Britain at around 2,500 for the remainder of this decade, there will unfortunately continue to be a great deal of suffering, and subsequent claims for compensation.