Oxford, UK—The family of a former railway worker who died from the asbestos cancer mesothelioma has won a settlement from Great Western Railways.
Dudley Maasz contracted the cancer while working as a cleaner and fireman for the railway, since he was frequently exposed to asbestos on the job. The boilers of locomotives, as well as the pipes and cylinders of the engines, were coated with asbestos, which was commonly used as an insulating material throughout the mid-20th Century. Known for its extreme resistance to heat, flame and electrical conductivity, asbestos is also a remarkably flexible and versatile material. It can be woven into fabric or spun into yarn, as well as mixed with plastics, cement and other substances for use in construction and industrial applications. Asbestos, however, is a carcinogen. When the asbestos-containing material is disturbed or damaged, it can release millions of microscopic fibers into the air.
When these fibers, which are sharp and needle-like, are breathed into the the human body, they can penetrate deeply into the soft tissues, including the mesothelium. This is a special membrane which surrounds the lungs and lines the chest and abdominal cavities, and which produces a fluid that helps protect the organs. Once breathed in, the asbestos fibers cannot be breathed out or otherwise expelled from the body. Although there is no level of exposure to asbestos that is considered safe, the odds of contracting mesothelioma increase with repeated or prolonged exposure to the substance. Maasz worked for the rail company in the 1940s, during the peak era of asbestos use. He later left Great Western Railways and worked at Oxford University Press and then for Morris Motors. Maasz was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2005 after complaining of pain in his side and shoulder. He died at age 74 in July 2006. Now Maasz’s family has won a claim against BRB (Residuary) Limited, formerly British Rail, of £98,000 plus costs. Mesothelioma is a very rare cancer with an unusual characteristic – it may take up to 50 years to be fully developed and therefore diagnosable. This long latency period, combined with the fact that mesothelioma’s symptoms are often very similar to the symptoms of other health issues, such as emphysema and bronchitis, can make this disease difficult to diagnose. Mesothelioma has no cure, although some treatments can be offered in an attempt to slow the cancer’s spread.