Northumberland's asbestos death toll
Asbestos-related cancer has claimed the lives of nearly 400 people in Northumberland over almost four decades, new figures reveal.
The death toll emerged as MPs launched an inquiry into how the material is being managed – following serious safety concerns being raised about the material.
Exposure to asbestos can lead to mesothelioma – a cancer which affects the lining of some organs, including the lungs – and Health and Safety Executive data shows the disease was responsible for 397 deaths in Northumberland between 1981 and 2019 – the latest available figures.
Of those, 96 occurred between 2015 and 2019 – the highest number of deaths recorded in any five-year period since records began.
The Work and Pensions Committee, which launched the inquiry, said that despite the importation, supply and use of asbestos being banned in the UK since 1999, it remains the largest single cause of work-related fatalities – over 5,000 deaths each year.
Liz Darlison, CEO of charity Mesothelioma UK, said poor asbestos management in the past had led to a "public health disaster”.
She added: "Our country is riddled with the stuff and we have to address this if we want to protect future generations. We need a long-term, government-led initiative to remove asbestos."
The HSE said: "Sadly, the damage from exposure to asbestos takes many decades to show itself and it can be up to 40 years before disease is detectable.
"This means that cases now normally result from exposures which predate the 1980s when the regulations and work practices were significantly tightened.”