Dartmouth, UK—A former asbestos worker contracted the form of cancer known as mesothelioma while on the job, a coroner has concluded.
Roy Holt, who worked for the Central Electricity Generating Board at a factory near Birmingham from 1963 to 1966, tested the resistance of materials by wrapped metal samples into asbestos cords and wool and then firing them into large furnaces. Inhalation of the asbestos dust produced during this work is almost certainly what led to his diagnosis of mesothelioma. Holt died in July 2009, at age 72. Recently, the Torbay Coroner Ian Arrow recorded a verdict of industrial illness-related death. During the inquest, a former colleague of Holt’s testified that asbestos particulate was rife in the workplace.
“We were eating the stuff,” said Tom Rowberry, who worked with Holt at the CEGB plant. “There were no masks or protective suits. We handled asbestos by hand. We were covered in it.” Asbestos, now a known carcinogen that can lead to mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis, was once nearly ubiquitous in a number of industrial applications. It is extremely strong and durable, and has a great resistance to fire and heat, making it ideal for insulation. Additionally, it can be woven into fabrics or mixed with cement or plastics in order to increase their durability and fire-resistance. When any of these asbestos-containing materials are disturbed, they can fill the surrounding air with microscopic, needle-like fibers that penetrate the lungs and mesothelium, which in turn can cause the surrounding cells to become malignant. Malignant pleural mesothelioma is a rare disease, and an unusual one because it can take up to 40 years, or even longer, to become symptomatic. By the time a person realizes that they are experiencing symptoms, and consults with their physician, the mesothelioma may already have reached Stage III or Stage IV. At this point it’s usually too late to effectively treat the cancer.