Derby, U.K.—Prolonged exposure to asbestos was the cause of the mesothelioma that took the life of a man in Allenton, a suburb outside of Derby, England.
Stephen Gillingham, 51, suffered from the rare but aggressive cancer which was diagnosed just a year ago. Gillingham, who was the head groundsman for International Combustion from 1988 to 1994, gave a statement before his death that he had been exposed to the dangerous fiber for over two decades of his working life.
While working in the archives of International Combustion, Gillingham recalled how setting up a ladder to reach files stored in high places would disturb the covering of pipes, sprinkling dust on him. Books in the archives were also covered in dust which Gillingham could not identify.
A doctor who examined Gillingham’s body said there were no asbestos particles present. However, Dr. Andrew Hitchcock, consultant pathologist from the Royal Derby Hospital, also mentioned that in the 21 years since Gillingham started working at the plant, malignant mesothelioma could have developed. Mesothelioma has a long latency period, meaning its symptoms can remain dormant for years or even decades, typically preventing doctors from diagnosing it early. Gillingham did not suffer from any other life-threatening illness.
Gillingham may also have been exposed to the deadly fiber as a child, when his father, who worked at the Derby Locomotive works, came home from work covered in asbestos dust.
Gillingham had been undergoing chemotherapy, but in May was taken to the hospital after complaining of difficulty breathing. He passed away on June 16.
Pleural mesothelioma is a cancer almost exclusively caused by asbestos exposure. The microscopic fibers become lodged in the mesothelium – a lining around major organs – causing tissue scars and leading to increased levels of lung cancer. Though treatment is available, researchers have yet to find a cure.