The United Kingdom has announced that it will present trade unions with funding for workers whose lives have been devastated by the asbestos cancer mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.
The government’s proposal amounts to £70 million (approximately 113 million USD). Some of this will be awarded to mesothelioma sufferers for their pain and lost wages, while a portion will go to fund a research center. Additionally, the UK government will push for insurance coverage for those patients who are dying and who are not longer covered under their employers’ insurance.
Yet the proposal is already drawing fire for not overturning a 2007 ruling, which said that sufferers of pleural plaques are not eligible for compensation. Pleural plaques are another asbestos-related condition which cannot develop into cancer, but which may predict a future diagnosis of either mesothelioma or asbestos-related lung cancer, because they indicate the presence within the body of asbestos fibers.
Mesothelioma, a form of cancer which is nearly always linked to asbestos exposure, occurs when the fibers are inhaled. There is no way for the body to expel these fibers, which are microscopic and can slip through the lungs’ natural filtration system. Over time the needlelike fibers can make their way through the lungs into the mesothelium, which covers and protects the lungs, and cause cellular damage, leading to the formation of a diffuse tumor which is generally inoperable.
Mesothelioma has a very long latency period, and may not be diagnosed until decades after the contact with asbestos took place. It is a fatal cancer, often killing its victims within a few short months after diagnosis.
Occupational populations that worked with asbestos, and are therefore at the highest risk for asbestos-related diseases, include plumbers, pipefitters, electricians, joiners and other tradesmen. The peak use of asbestos in Britain was in the mid-20th Century; combined with the long latency period associated with asbestos diseases, this means that the rate of diagnoses is expected to rise within the next decade. Some 20,000 people die annually from mesothelioma across the world.