New study links environmental exposure to asbestos with increased risk of mesothelioma

Date published: 11 October 2017

The Save Spodden Valley campaign group is calling attention to an important scientific study that has just been released linking environmental exposure to asbestos with an increased risk of mesothelioma, a fatal cancer caused by exposure to the mineral.

The study by Binazzi et al. was published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health, and found “an excess of mesothelioma incidence confirmed in sites with a known past history of direct use of asbestos.”

It concluded asbestos pollution is a risk for people living in polluted areas, due to not only occupational exposure in industrial settings with direct use of asbestos, but also the presence of asbestos in the environment.

Rochdale was once home to the largest asbestos factory in the world and the continued risk of cancer from asbestos contamination at the former Turner Brothers site in Spodden Valley remains a major concern for local residents. For over 13 years, the Save Spodden Valley campaign group has been working to secure a safe future for the controversial site.

In 1924, the factory was the scene of the UK’s first recorded death from asbestos exposure after worker Nellie Kershaw from Rochdale, died aged 33 of pulmonary asbestosis, a chronic disease that inflames and scars lung tissue.

Asbestos has since been linked to ‘in excess of 2,000 deaths’ from mesothelioma or asbestos-related lung cancer each year in the UK, according to the Health and Safety Executive. Symptoms take many years, even decades, to appear after originally being exposed to the microscopic fibres. There is no cure.

Jason Addy, of Save Spodden Valley, commented: “The Italian study gives clear findings that there is a measurable risk from environmental exposure to asbestos from old production sites.

“It is surprising that given the international importance of the Spodden Valley asbestos site - as one of the world's first, largest and longest asbestos factory site's in continuous production - that there has been no longitudinal study of historic health and mortality.

“A cynic may suggest that those who could have pushed for such information have preferred to have such inconvenient facts buried, along with the tens of thousands of tonnes of asbestos.”

He continued: “There are a number of statistical factors that have obscured the collection of such data regarding the former TBA site in the Spodden Valley. Historically, the TBA workforce has been transient. Many newly-settled migrants – including Welsh and Irish during the 1930s depression, and war workers often relocated due to city bombing and essential war work during World War Two, plus Italian prisoners of war – once worked at the factory for relatively short periods of time.

“Later came those who were displaced from eastern Europe from the 1940s and after the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. The 1960s then saw migration from the Indian subcontinent.

“To add to complicated migration patterns, many immigrants who, after being exposed to asbestos, then left Rochdale to find a new life in places as far afield as Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA. In addition, there has been a considerable change over the decades in the local population moving to other places within the UK.

“However, somebody who may have received causative exposure from TBA in the 1960s or 70s may now be presenting with cancer in another part of the country. Even closer afield, if someone dies of an asbestos disease in a hospital or care home outside of their Rochdale family home then the inquest and statistics will record the location of the asbestos related illness at the actual place of death.”

“All of these factors make it exceedingly difficult to give a full picture of historic asbestos exposure from TBA and the resulting illnesses and deaths caused decades later,” Mr Addy concluded.

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