Calls for asbestos illness screening for those in IRA bombings

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Calls have been made for routine health screening for anyone caught up in the IRA bombings, whether as a victim of a bomb or those who dealt with the aftermath. The deaths of two people involved after-the-event in Brighton and Manchester have sparked concern about the number of potential victims there may be in the future.

Former detective Jonathan Woods was at the scene of the Grand Hotel bombing in Brighton in 1984, when the IRA attempted to murder Mrs Thatcher and cabinet ministers. Mr Woods developed mesothelioma, which is known to be caused by asbestos exposure, 31 years later.

The second recent victim is Stuart Packard, who worked as a security guard after the IRA bombing of Manchester in 1996, working amidst the rubble and debris for three weeks afterwards. Mr Packard also passed away in 2015, at the age of 40, after developing mesothelioma which is an aggressive type of lung cancer know to be caused by inhalation of asbestos particles.

Screening for asbestos-related disease

Asbestos is a known carcinogen whose fibres are easily dispersed when disturbed, or if the substance is damaged. Inhaling the dust and fibres can set up respiratory disease in later life, sometimes up to 50 years after the initial exposure.

It is hoped that by proactively screening anyone who was involved in the clean-up operation after a bombing, or who survived the attack itself, illnesses may be better managed and lives prolonged in the future.

Kenny Donaldson from campaign group Innocent Victims United, wants the government to recognise their responsibilities to the families of those who have died:

“We are calling today for an acknowledgement by Government that it has a duty of care to those families who have lost loved ones to secondary related issues which can be proven to have arisen as a consequence of an initial primary ‘Troubles-related incident’.”

He also said that the time that has passed between a bombing incident and the present day should not factor into whether or not assistance is offered to these families. The problem with asbestos-related illness is that it can take several decades to manifest, and can be difficult to trace back to the original event after such a lengthy period of time.

Hopes for funding from the government

The fact that the NHS is under considerable pressure may result in a reluctance by the Treasury to provide sufficient funds to sustain an extensive screening process, but Mr Donaldson pointed out the duty of care incumbent on the government when he said:

“This State has a duty to identify other cases and to then enact the necessary interventions which could save or certainly prolong the lives of those citizens affected.”

Current statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that deaths from mesothelioma stood at 2,538 in 2013 – a figure that is expected to rise over the coming decade. The long latency period between exposure and illness could see these figures increase rapidly, however, when the deaths of Jonathan Woods and Stuart Packard are considered.