London, England—As part of its recent asbestos-awareness campaign, the British Health and Safety Executive recently announced that 20 United Kingdom residents each year die from the asbestos cancer mesothelioma and similar diseases. The campaign, called, “Asbestos: the Hidden Killer,” is meant to educate the occupational groups most at risk for asbestos exposure—joiners, plumbers, electricians, boilermakers and others—about the dangers of this toxic building material, which can lead to the rare cancer mesothelioma. Mesothelioma occurs when asbestos fibers, which are microscopic, sharp and needle-like, enter the body through inhalation or ingestion. They penetrate the individual cells of the mesothelium, a membrane lining the chest cavity, and wreak havoc on the DNA therein. This causes the cells to replicate erratically, leading to the formation of a malignant tumor.
According to a recent report released in conjunction with the awareness campaign, approximately 4,000 people each year die from asbestos-related illnesses such as mesothelioma. This averages out to 20 people per week, which is higher than the number of British people who die in car accidents each year. Although the use of asbestos was tightly regulated in the United Kingdom beginning in the early 1980s, the substance remains in a number of buildings, both homes and non-domestic structures. Experts generally agree that when it is in place and undisturbed, asbestos is not harmful. Yet whenever the building products or other items containing asbestos are disturbed, cut, broken, damaged or destroyed, the asbestos becomes “friable,” meaning that it can easily release its fibers into the surrounding air. Last year, the government gave out 100,000 informational packets, which led to an increase in the sales of protective gear by tradesmen. Unfortunately, the number of deaths from asbestos exposure and its resultant diseases is expected to peak around 2020 in Britain.