LTB 165/23 – Action Mesothelioma Day 7th July 2023
28 June 2023
Our Ref: P8/23
To: All Branches
Action Mesothelioma Day 7th July 2023
Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer almost always caused by exposure to Asbestos and mainly affects the lining of the lungs (pleural Mesothelioma). More than 2,700 people are diagnosed with Mesothelioma each year in the UK.
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to cure Mesothelioma, although treatment can help control the symptoms.
The symptoms of Mesothelioma tend to develop gradually over time and they typically do not appear until many years after exposure to Asbestos. Symptoms of Mesothelioma in the lining of the lungs include chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue and extreme tiredness, persistent cough and high temperature, weight loss and swollen fingertips. Anyone with any persistent or worrying symptoms should see a GP without delay and tell them about any possible past exposure to Asbestos.
Although Asbestos has been completely banned for nearly 25 years, materials containing Asbestos are still found in many older buildings.
If a GP suspects Mesothelioma, they’ll refer the patient to a hospital specialist for some tests, biopsies, x-rays and a scans. These tests can help diagnose Mesothelioma and show how far it’s spread.
Treatment is usually focused on controlling the symptoms and prolonging life for as long as possible – palliative or supportive care such as chemotherapy, the main treatment for Mesothelioma and radiotherapy. Surgery and immunotherapy are also used.
Unfortunately, the outlook for Mesothelioma tends to be poor. This is because it does not usually cause any obvious symptoms until late on and can progress quite quickly once it reaches this stage.
There are currently around 2,500 deaths from Mesothelioma each year in the UK and many more worldwide.
Due to the risks to health following inhalation exposure to Asbestos the importation of blue and brown Asbestos was banned in the UK in 1985. This ban was extended to include white Asbestos in 1999.
Worldwide at least 38,000 people die every year from Asbestos-related Mesothelioma and Asbestos-related lung cancer and Asbestosis push the death numbers far higher. These deaths cause so much heartbreak and suffering. They leave huge holes in families; ones that can never be filled. Asbestos fibres are invisible to the naked eye, therefore it is so important for people to know where Asbestos can be found, so these deaths can be prevented.
Action Mesothelioma Day on 7th July 2023 brings together patients, carers, families and local dignitaries in Britain for services of remembrance and hope, commemorating the thousands of lives lost to Mesothelioma. The day is organised by Mesothelioma UK.
Mesothelioma UK are members of the UK Mesothelioma Alliance. The alliance is continuing to run the successful’ Go Blue for Meso’ Campaign this year and are asking you to get involved by lighting up your home or contacting a prominent landmark in your local area to light up blue on Friday 7 July. By doing so, you’ll be helping to put a spotlight on a disease that deserves more attention. You can see more details, a map of places that have already agreed to Go Blue For Meso and a template letter on the dedicated Action Meso Go Blue For Meso website here.
Asbestos related Cancer Deaths – Statistics
According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) the number of Asbestos related Cancer deaths have continued to increase over recent years which reflect occupational exposures that occurred many years ago because there is a long time lag between exposure in most cases and the onset of the disease. The HSE expects deaths from Mesothelioma to continue to rise for the next four to five years. Asbestos was used very extensively all the way up to 1999 when it was finally banned in the UK so we have quite a stock of buildings with Asbestos-containing materials in them. As well as people working in construction and related industries, Mesothelioma has claimed the lives of women who inhaled Asbestos dust as they washed their husband’s work clothes.
The tragic legacy of Asbestos means that someone dies every five hours in the UK and the World Health Organisation reports that Asbestos-related lung cancer, Asbestosis and Mesothelioma, the three diseases caused by occupational Asbestos exposures results in well over 100,000 deaths a year worldwide.
At present no effective treatment or cure exists
Those affected are workers from a wide range of industries and occupations. In the past construction workers, railway workers, ship yard workers, MOD workers, telecommunication engineering workers were exposed in large numbers. People who have lived near Asbestos factories in the past and families of workers who have unintentionally brought the deadly dust home on their work clothes and overalls have been affected.
With 100,000 tonnes of Asbestos containing materials still in buildings built before 2000, those tradesmen e.g., buildings maintenance workers, plumbers, electricians, joiners, gas fitters, heating and ventilation engineers, IT and telecommunications workers and others – working on and maintaining the buildings or carrying out alterations or installations etc., are the ones at risk today if safety precautions are not followed.
There is no safe threshold of exposure to Asbestos fibres, meaning that inhalation of small quantities, even over a short period, can lead to Mesothelioma decades after exposure. Mesothelioma normally has a latency period of around 30–40 years.
Mesothelioma is a rare and incurable form of cancer, caused almost exclusively through the inhalation and retention of Asbestos fibres. The condition mostly affects those individuals who worked within roles that involved the use of Asbestos. However, it has also been known to affect individuals who spent many years employed within an Asbestos-contaminated environment. (See attached Guide to Mesothelioma Asbestos Cancer).
Types of Asbestos
There are three main types of Asbestos – blue, brown and white. Blue is the most toxic but no type is safe. Many are still ignorant of the dangers of Asbestos and the cancers it can cause. At least three other types of Asbestos exist but were less commonly used. Fibres lay dormant in the lining of the lungs or abdomen and the slow growing cancer symptoms can appear 15 to 50 years after exposure has taken place. As Asbestos was thought of as a ‘miracle fibre’ because of its strong resistance to heat, fire and chemicals, it was used in a variety of materials and products in the home and industries throughout the UK, such as building and electrical insulation and mixed with cement, until the importation was finally banned.
The Asbestos Ban
In the UK, blue and brown Asbestos materials were banned outright in 1985 while the import, sale and second hand reuse of white Asbestos was outlawed in 1999 by the Tony Blair led Labour Government.
Asbestos related diseases
Embedded Asbestos fibres irritate the lung tissue around them, causing a number of diseases:
- Pleural disease
Inflammation and irritation of the outer lining of the lung, the pleura. The pleura stiffens and thickens widely (diffuse thickening) or in patches (plaques), and can fill with fluid. This thickening can restrict breathing.
This is scarring of the lungs: the airways become so inflamed and scarred that oxygen is no longer able to pass from the lungs into the blood. The lungs become stiff and inelastic, making breathing progressively difficult. Symptoms include tightness in the chest, dry cough, and in the later stages, a bluish tinge to the skin caused by lack of oxygen. Asbestosis is usually seen in former Asbestos miners, Asbestos manufacturing workers and insulation workers, and usually takes a decade or more to develop.
- Lung cancer
Exposure to Asbestos fibres greatly increases a person’s risk of developing lung cancer, particularly if they are also a smoker.
Mesothelioma is a cancer of the pleura. It typically grows quickly and spreads widely before symptoms appear, making its early diagnosis and effective treatment very difficult. The average survival time after diagnosis is only 6-18 months. A very small exposure to Asbestos can be enough to trigger the cancer, however, only a small percentage of people exposed to Asbestos develop Mesothelioma. There may be a lag of 20 to 40 years after Asbestos exposure before Mesothelioma results.
Employers are legally bound to survey, identify and manage or remove Asbestos-containing materials in their buildings and those employing workers must find out if Asbestos-containing materials are present and plan the work to avoid disturbing these materials and exposing workers. Workers should stop and ask if they are unsure or are suspicious that something may be Asbestos or if you think the work might need to be carried out by a licensed contractor. They should follow the plan of work and work method statement and safe system of work making sure they have been properly trained and informed before they start. Further detailed information and advice is available from the CWU HQ Health, Safety & Environment Department, Health and Safety Executive and Local Authority Environmental Health Departments.
Action Mesothelioma Day Events You Can Support and Attend:
The Health, Safety and Environment Department at CWU/HQ has received details of the following events being organized across the UK which Safety Reps and Branch Reps may wish to attend:
- TUC Congress House, London – Special Event (see below)
The full details of this list are set out in the attachment to this LTB
TUC Congress House, London – Special Event
In line with the CWU supported, TUC and Trade Union-wide policy, we need a UK Government change of policy that will bring the UK into line with other EU countries, by eradicating Asbestos and managing its safe removal and disposal wherever it’s found. Join representatives from UK Trade Unions on the steps of TUC HQ Congress House, Great Russell Street London WC1B 3LS at 12 Noon on Action Mesothelioma Day, Friday 7 July 2023 for a short vigil and call for Government action. EU Governments have managed the removal of Asbestos from non-domestic buildings years ago but UK Governments have failed to act. 85% of UK schools and 90% of UK hospitals still contain Asbestos in the fabric of the buildings. Trade Unions call for a change of policy and a planned removal of Asbestos from all buildings.
In March 2022 the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee of MPs published their investigation report on Asbestos related deaths, illnesses and controls, and recommended that “A deadline now be set for the removal of Asbestos from non-domestic buildings, within 40 years with the Government and HSE to develop and publish a strategic plan to achieve this, focusing on removing the highest risk Asbestos first, and the early removal from the highest risk settings including schools.” The Select Committee comprised of 4 Labour MPs, 6 Conservative MPs and 1 Scottish Nationalist MP. HOWEVER, THE TORY GOVERNMENT REJECTED THE RECOMMENDATION in July 2022 stating that “The current risk of Asbestos exposure is very low where Asbestos can be managed safely in situ until planned refurbishment works.”
All Reps are welcome to join the TUC/HQ Vigil on Action Mesothelioma Day!
You can also get involved in Action Mesothelioma Day by:
- Downloading information for awareness raising from the Mesothelioma(UK) Website https://www.Mesothelioma.uk.com/
- Downloading and distributing IOSH NTTL free resources, to raise awareness https://iosh.com/about-iosh/our-influence/policy-positions/iosh-Asbestos-policy-position/
- Getting involved by lighting up your home or contacting a prominent landmark in your local area to light up blue on this day https://actionmeso.org/goblue/
House of Commons Early Day Motion:
See attached House of Commons, Asbestos-related lung cancer EDM (Early Day Motion) no 1223 submitted by Martin Docherty-Hughes MP and so far signed by 21 MPs.
Motion to Scottish Parliament:
See attached Motion to the Scottish Parliament on “Action Mesothelioma Day 2023” Submitted by: Marie McNair, Clydebank and Milngavie SMP and endorsed by 30 cross-party SMPs. The Motion recognises and endorses ‘Action Mesothelioma Day’, congratulates campaigners and notes the need for further research.
Many thanks for your continued support – CWU supporting campaigns to beat occupational cancer.
National Health, Safety & Environment Officer