The total number of workers in the northeast section of England who are suffering from mesothelioma has reached the highest levels yet recorded. Worse still, an extensive research report of the British government's Health and Safety Executive (HSE) office states that the number of people in the region to be diagnosed with the disease is not due to reach its full height until the year 2016.
The study results imply that workers in the industrial region will continue to be treated for the disease, which affects the fluid surrounding the lungs, for years to come. Mesothelioma is a rare and often fatal form of cancer that frequently arises from long-term exposure to asbestos fibers. Patients with the disease often die within eighteen months of receiving the diagnosis. With incidences of mesothelioma on the rise, the HSE is treating the situation as a regional and national health crisis.
Investigators at the HSE have predicted that the number of mesothelioma cases will continue to increase for at least another seven years. Reports show a total of 2,046 men died due to mesothelioma in 2005 and 2,058 in 2006, with a sharp increase to 2,156 in 2007. Results from the study also examined the frequency of incidence among females; since jobs that require exposure to asbestos are in male-dominated sectors such as construction, demolition and mining, male patients had an incidence rate five times higher than their female co-workers.
However, the death rate for females rose at a much steeper rate. From 2002 to 2004, the death rate from malignant mesothelioma among females was 11.19 per million, compared to 87.08 per million among males. From 2005 to 2007, the death rate from mesothelioma among females jumped to 16.41 per million, an increase of over forty-six percent from the previous three years. The death rate among males during the same time period was 89.52 per million, an increase of less than three percent.
During the 1950s and 1960s, northeastern England was an industrial center, with numerous facilities specializing in coal mining and shipbuilding. Many of these facilities used asbestos in manufacturing and mining processes. Although women did not typically work in these areas at the time, the theory is that many of the women who contracted the disease did so by being exposed to asbestos fibers that clung to the male worker's clothing.
An HSE representative asserted that asbestos exposure for workers in the area was not simply a problem of the past, but still poses a serious health threat to modern workers. Although the British government instituted a total ban on asbestos-containing materials in 2000, at least half a million foreign-owned facilities in Britain still contain asbestos at varying levels. According to the HSE spokesman, asbestos "is Britain's biggest industrial killer".
One of they key initiatives that the HSE office is likely to start is an asbestos education program for both the workers on the ground and the supervisors and managers of the affected facilities. Agency officials also warned that they would step up efforts to prosecute firms that did not follow strict guidelines in cleaning up and disposing of the toxic material, including providing workers with protective clothing and breathing masks, as well as minimizing the danger of exposure to the general public.