Survey finds widespread ignorance of asbestos, cancer link

In collaboration with the Press Association

A new survey has revealed widespread ignorance of the health risks posed by asbestos, with under a third of tradespeople recognising that it can cause cancer.

Workers such as builders, plumbers, carpenters and electricians are particularly at risk from the banned insulating material, which is responsible for most cases of mesothelioma - a form of cancer that affects the cells on the outer surface of the lungs.

When a person is exposed to asbestos, they breathe in tiny fibres which work their way into the lining of the lung, irritating and damaging the cells. This in turn can lead to cancer.

Although all types of asbestos have been banned in the UK since 1999, it was heavily used after the second world war and is still found in many buildings.

However, a study by the British Lung Foundation found that 30 per cent of tradespeople wrongly thought it had largely been removed from UK buildings, and 74 per cent had received no training in how to deal with asbestos.

The survey, which polled nearly 400 people, also revealed that only 12 per cent knew asbestos exposure could be life-threatening, despite the fact that one person dies from mesothelioma every five hours in the UK.

The charity is seeking to raise awareness through its Action Mesothelioma Day on February 27th.

Dame Helena Shovelton, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: "It is a great worry that those most at risk of this cruel cancer know so little about a killer that could be lurking in the building they're working on today.

"We want mesothelioma to become a disease of the past, but until people put their health first, become asbestos aware and protect themselves against asbestos that goal can't be reached."

Mesothelioma takes between 15 and 60 years to develop after exposure to asbestos and, although asbestos is no longer in use in the UK, the number of cancer diagnoses is expected to rise over the next 20 years because of its heavy use until the 1970s.