Asbestos legacy of Brighton bombing

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Thirty-one years ago the Brighton bomb caused death and devastation inside the Grand Hotel, and remains one of the most notorious terrorist attacks to take place in this country. Who would have thought it would still be claiming victims thirty-one years later, however?

Jonathon Woods, an anti-terrorist officer with the Metropolitan Police, was reported to be one of the first to arrive at the scene. As he sifted through the rubble looking for survivors, he was exposed to asbestos which would have been prominent in a building of that age.

Long latency period characteristic of asbestos-related disease

Having inhaled dust and fibres from the deadly substance, his risk of illness in later life significantly magnified. Between thirty and fifty years is a common timescale for lung cancers and other life-changing asbestos-related disease to manifest, and Mr Woods’ exposure led to mesothelioma, an aggressive form of lung cancer associated with asbestos.

Mesothelioma affects the lining of the lungs, where asbestos dust and fibres settle once inhaled. A poor prognosis is the usual result, with between 12 and 18 months from diagnosis a common timescale offered to victims by the medical profession.

One-off incidents can leave a deadly asbestos legacy

Honorary Medical Advisor at the British Lung Foundation, Dr John Moore-Gillon, offered a reminder that it is not just long-term exposure that proves deadly:

“Asbestos fibres seem to alter the way in which cells multiply and divide. Even a small amount of asbestos exposure – from clothes, for example – is enough.”

Asbestos was used widely in older buildings such as the Grand Hotel. Its fire-retardant and insulating properties made it a common addition to ceiling tiles, flooring, lagging for pipe work, and in central heating systems.

Compensation for asbestos exposure

Mr Woods had issued a writ against the Metropolitan Police and Sussex Police Force for not providing adequate equipment to protect him against asbestos. If his family pursue the case, it could be the first civil suit of this kind.

The difficulty in some compensation cases involving exposure to asbestos in the workplace is proving an employer’s negligence, as cases are often brought several decades after an employee has worked at a site.

In previous decades the dangers of using asbestos may not have been widely known, or at least not acknowledged in some instances, making it difficult to gather the evidence needed to bring a successful case.

Asbestos awareness more widespread these days

Thanks to the availability of asbestos awareness training, workers are now more knowledgeable about the dangers of asbestos, and the risks to health and safety. Although it was banned in this country in 1999, its prolific use from the 1950s onwards means that asbestos remains a prominent part of many older buildings.

Workers and self-employed tradespeople are likely to come into contact with it on a regular basis, hence the need to be aware of what it looks like and where it might be found.

The 1984 bombing is likely to have released large amounts of asbestos dust and fibres into the air, most of which would have settled on the rubbish and rubble through which Jonathon Woods sifted.