Carlisle, UK—A former coach builder who was occupationally exposed to asbestos on a daily basis has died from the asbestos cancer mesothelioma.
Ronald Clark, 77, passed away in April 2009, just two months after being diagnosed with a malignant mesothelioma tumor. One of the hallmarks of this disease is its ability to remain latent within the body for years, or even decades, after exposure to asbestos, and then to develop very quickly. Mesothelioma is, additionally, difficult to diagnose because its symptoms are non-specific and resemble those of other illnesses and conditions, like colds, flu and bronchitis. It is a disease that is often misdiagnosed.
Clark, who played soccer as a goalkeeper for the Carlisle United team in the 1950s, had also served in the Royal Air Force. He was employed from 1946 to 1982 as a coach builder and worked for several different companies, including Bendalls Engineers and Border Caravans.
Part of Clark’s job involved cutting asbestos sheets. He did not use protective gear such as a respirator, nor did his workplaces have adequate ventilation.
Asbestos was at one time almost ubiquitous in the construction industry, as well as a commonplace additive to many consumer products. It is a mineral material which is flexible, durable, and nearly impervious to high temperatures and fire. Unfortunately, it can also be highly toxic, especially when it is damaged or cut, because it releases a particulate dust into the air which can be easily inhaled. This dust is composed of microscopic fibers that pierce the membrane surrounding the lungs and other organs, called the mesothelium. Once there, they can lead to a malignancy, which can spread quickly across the mesothelium, into the lungs and lymph nodes, and eventually to other parts of the body.
There is no cure for mesothelioma, and the majority of people who are diagnosed with it die within several months of learning that they have the disease. Mesothelioma is diagnosed in over 2,000 new patients in Great Britain each year.
The Carlisle coroner recorded a verdict of death through industrial disease, after a post-mortem examination found asbestos fibers in nine sections of Clark’s lung.