What is the link Between Asbestos and Lung Cancer?

Former England football player Ian Wright is the face of a new campaign to reduce the number of asbestos-related deaths, which have been increasing in numbers over the past few years. The campaign is being carried out by the Health and safety Executive, labelled Asbestos: The Hidden Killer, and has found that 20 tradesmen a week die in the UK from asbestos damaging the lungs. This is the biggest cause of work-related deaths in the UK, with more than 4000 deaths a year attributed to this toxic substance. The diseases caused by it include mesothelioma, which is a type of cancer that attacks the membrane around the lung, and the same form of lung cancer that’s caused by smoking. Many of these deaths are amongst tradesmen such as builders, plumbers and electricians, who are exposed to it in homes around the country. The campaign hope to raise awareness of the issue and help to limit the risk of this happening more.


According to the HSE there are many workers who don’t realise the risk they are exposed to each day, mainly because asbestos was banned many years ago. However, there are many buildings which still have it present – this poses a significant risk to people’s health. If buildings were constructed or refurbished before 2000, then it is likely that they may have asbestos in them. It’s thought that around half a million buildings have it present in them. If a home or building has asbestos in it, and the fibres are disturbed by building work, for example, then the deadly dust could be inhaled either by tradesmen or by the people living in the building. The campaign states that the importance lies in educating tradespeople on the dangers of asbestos and how it is relevant to them. Changing the way they work could save their lives – campaigners hope that promoting the issue could help this take place. Tom King, 64, developed the life-threatening mesothelioma when his lungs were exposed to the dangerous asbestos on a job when we was working as a carpenter. He’d had no training in how to remove it, so he used to just throw it in skips when he found it in buildings. After having terrible chest pains and breathlessness in 2006, he visited his doctor – after having x-ray, it was diagnosed that he had mesothelioma. There is no cure for this form of cancer, but chemotherapy and radiotherapy can prolong life and improve your symptoms.

If you work in places that could be more at risk, then there are ways to reduce your risk. To begin with, you should contact the HSE for advice. You should avoid working with asbestos where you can, and if you’re not sure if it is present you should find out before beginning the job. Your boss or client should tell you if there is asbestos present before you begin work. Only a licensed contractor should deal with asbestos that’s present in sprayed coating, board or on pipes and boilers. You can only continue to work where asbestos is present if you’ve had training and you’re using the right equipment. To ensure that you minimise the dust from asbestos, use hand tools instead of power tools, and keep your materials damp but not wet. Cleaning up as you go with a vacuum cleaner can help to minimise the dust in the air and on your equipment, too. Proper masks that are suited to this kind of work are best used at all times as well.

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