International Asbestos Memorial Unveiled

Date published: 28 April 2006

Rochdale MP's and Councillors joined Save Spodden Valley campaigners and members of the public to see the International Asbestos Memorial unveiled at a ceremony this afternoon, Friday April 28 at 3.30pm.

The plaque on the memorial stone in Rochdale reads:

'Asbestos: Once a Magic Mineral but always a killer dust.'

The first recorded asbestosis death was a Rochdale asbestos worker called Nellie Kershaw and her daughter unveiled the Memorial Stone.

The memorial stone, paid for by monies collected by the Save Spodden Valley campaign, is in a Conservation Area, the Memorial Gardens, in the centre of Rochdale.

Rochdale was chosen as the site of the International Memorial because:

  • The Spodden Valley of Rochdale was one of the founding sites of the world’s asbestos industry. Asbestos was produced at Turner & Newall (T&N) from 1879 to the 1990’s.
  • The medical term ‘asbestosis’ was first used on the death, in 1924, of Rochdale asbestos worker Nellie Kershaw. T&N acknowledged its first mesothelioma death was in 1936.
  • The Rochdale factory was studied for the world’s first asbestos Regulations in 1931. Questionable findings and statistics were used in later, controversial, government regulations.
  • T&N’s offices in the Spodden Valley of Rochdale were the first headquarters of its multinational empire. It was also the base for the industry-funded ‘Asbestosis Research Council’ that helped prolong the use of asbestos.
  • The lives of countless people worldwide have been affected by decisions once made in the Spodden Valley.

It was particularly fitting that the memorial was unveiled on International Workers Memorial Day – a day when people throughout the world pause to remember those killed or harmed at work.  This year, the victims of asbestos disease were remembered in ceremonies in dozens of countries:

Hours later, Rochdale Online’s news reports of the Spodden Valley were read out to a ceremony in Canada. 

Jason Addy, co-ordinator of the event said:

"It was very humbling to meet the people who had taken the time and trouble to attend the Rochdale ceremony- some from as far a field as Barrow-in Furness and Scotland. Many had lost loved ones to asbestos disease. One man had just been to Christie’s Hospital for treatment but was determined to attend the unveiling. 

"In addition to over 100 people attending the ceremony, we have received hundreds of messages of support through the post and email. The outpouring of emotion from 5 continents towards this modest memorial stone has been incredible. Many of the messages were displayed in the Town Hall (see PDF link below):


"Politicians and supporters from the Conservative, Liberal Democrat, UKIP, Labour / CO-OP and Green Party attended and stood together, united, to support the memorial and to remember those who have, are or will die from asbestos disease.

"It was particularly poignant that Mrs Kershaw unveiled the memorial stone. As a result, we were able to witness a link with Nellie who died 82 years ago and made history as the first person to be recognised as dying from asbestosis. According to a United Nations committee, 5,000,000 may follow Nellie to an early grave from exposure to this ‘magic’ but killer mineral.

"Although the memorial stone is but a modest monument- the languages on the plaque represent a greater goal: to fight for the living- be that in medical research or greater awareness of the dangers and a worldwide ban on asbestos with a just transition for those workers affected. 

"Asbestos is banned throughout the EU and most countries. However, a few companies still covert trade in this toxic mineral to some countries in the Developing World. Asbestos is still mined and exported from Quebec, India, Zimbabwe, Brazil and Russia. Powerful asbestos industry lobbying is trying to hang on to the last remnants of a profitable but deadly trade. Spin doctors and consultants have been paid to re-brand one form of the mineral as “Chrysotile”. Some of the advertising campaigns of the 1960’s and 70’s that emanated from the industry-sponsored ‘Asbestosis Research Institute”, once based in Rochdale, have recently been re-hashed for Brazil, Sri Lanka and India.

"Despite what remains of the asbestos industry’s slick advertising campaigns in the Developing World,   it has been acknowledged by the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation, the European Union, the UK Government and its Health & Safety Executive that ALL forms of commercially produced asbestos can cause cancer and other diseases. The medical evidence is overwhelming. That is why the message on the memorial stone in Rochdale, where the deaths began, is simple and clear:

“People before profit”.

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