An inquest recently heard that a former naval worker has died after experiencing decades’ worth of exposure to asbestos material while on the job.
The worker, Kenneth Garside, died from the asbestos-related cancer mesothelioma in February 2008. Garside was 84 at the time of his death.
Working as a shipwright is what exposed Garside to the toxic asbestos particulate—asbestos, an insulating component often used in construction and manufacturing, was extremely common in the shipbuilding industry. Anyone who worked on or near a ship, especially in the construction or routine maintenance of a ship, such as Garside did, would have breathed in the asbestos fibers on a regular basis.
When the asbestos fibers enter the body, they are able to penetrate the mesothelium, which is a thin membrane covering the lungs and lining the chest cavity. The mesothelium serves to protect the lungs by producing a lubricating fluid which allows them to move during breathing. When the mesothelium is affected by asbestos fibers, they can lead to the development of pleural plaques or malignant tumors, which in turn compromise the individual’s ability to breathe normally. Mesothelioma is a painful disease which can leave its victims literally gasping for breath. Most people who are diagnosed with this rare form of cancer die within two years, but many die within months.
Despite its extremely short prognosis, mesothelioma has a long incubation period, meaning that it can be developing within the body for years or even decades before it begins to display symptoms. When it does become symptomatic, it is often mistaken for other ailments such as asthma or emphysema.
In Gardside’s case, the coroner who performed the inquest, David Horsley, recorded a verdict of industrial disease. “He would have had decades of exposure to asbestos through his working life,” said Horsley of the deceased. “He spent most of his working life in close proximity to it. I can conclude very safely that he died due to industrial disease.”