Asbestos exposure legacy lasts for years, say campaigners

Campaigners have called for greater support for victims of asbestos-related cancer who are fighting for civil compensation, BBC Scotland has reported.

It comes as a mesothelioma sufferer from Inverness claimed that his previous employer was deliberately ignoring his correspondence.

James Nicol thinks he was exposed to asbestos while working on council homes in the 1980s, and wants Highland Council to acknowledge that he was exposed.

The local authority said it could not comment on Mr Nicol’s case, and that any claims would be handled by solicitors.

The 85-year-old worked as a labourer for Highland Regional Council, now the Highland Council.

Mr Nicol believes he came into contact with asbestos while refurbishing council properties in Inverness.  He also later worked for the regional council as a school janitor.

‘No cure for mesothelioma’

In March this year, the pensioner was diagnosed with mesothelioma, an incurable lung cancer almost always caused by asbestos exposure.

He said he had first noticed a change in his health during a swimming session. Mr Nicol told BBC Scotland:

“I could swim, but not the same speed and that was why I went to my GP. From then on it was x-rays, scans and a biopsy in Aberdeen.”

Mr Nicol was given his diagnosis at his local hospital in Inverness. He said:

“The consultant told me it was ‘all bad – no cure Mr Nicol’.”

While still in receipt of a local authority pension, he claims Highland Council has turned its back on him by failing to reply to correspondence from his solicitor on his condition.

A Highland Council spokesman said:

“We cannot comment on this matter. However, we can confirm that where individuals appoint solicitors to make claims against Highland Council, communications would be made via the person’s solicitor and not direct with the claimant.”

‘No windows in textile factories’

The charity Clydeside Action on Asbestos was set up in 1984 and initially dealt with shipyard workers.

However, senior welfare rights officer and director Phyllis Craig said the charity was now increasingly seeing people from other areas of employment, and also more women. She said:

“We are seeing a lot of people from the construction industry and we are seeing teachers, nurses, doctors, policemen and firemen.

Many of them had been exposed 20 years ago.

There is a myth that women were only exposed to asbestos if they washed their husband’s overalls.”

She said women were just as prone to the risk of being exposed to asbestos fibres working in a building, such as a hospital or school, as their male colleagues were.

Law changes in Scotland give sufferers and their families north of the border more rights than anywhere else in the UK.

Some sufferers, such as former textile factory worker Annie McGhee from Motherwell, may be eligible for a one-off payment from the government.

She believes she was exposed to asbestos while working at a knitwear factory before she married and raised a family. She said:

“It was the only place where I worked, and I worked there for eight years solid.

It was in the steam presses and there were lots of big pipes up above. There were no windows in the place.”

Two years ago this month, Mrs McGhee was diagnosed with terminal cancer following a year and half of experiencing shortness of breath due to fluid in her lungs.

The use of asbestos was banned in 1999 and campaigners warn that the legacy of the material will continue for decades yet with case numbers unlikely to peak for another 20 years.