A fire at COD Donnington in 1983 led to the death of a Shropshire resident 30 years later. Exposed to asbestos in her thirties, when the ash fell from the sky, Paula Nunn died in September from mesothelioma – an aggressive form of lung cancer attributed to the deadly effects of asbestos inhalation.
The long latency period of asbestos-related disease means that several decades or more can pass between exposure and the start of an illness. The fire at the Ministry of Defence depot near Telford was extensive, and resulted in pieces of asbestos that formed part of the roof, landing in the surrounding streets and gardens. In fact, around 15 square miles were affected in total.
Asbestos dust and fibre covered the gardens
Reports say that gardens in the immediate area were covered in asbestos fibre and dust for some time. Protective masks and suits were provided for those carrying out the clean-up operation, but it was too late to protect residents from exposure.
Furthermore, few warnings were given. People seemed largely unaware of the dangers they were being exposed to, which was the tragic reality of this fire. Shropshire coroner, John Elleray, issued a statement to this effect,
“For two days there were no warnings that the dust was dangerous and by this time a lot had accumulated over the local area in particular in Mrs Nunn’s back garden.”
Another asbestos death attributed to the fire
Another death from mesothelioma in 2008 was linked to the fire. The victim was only 31 years old, and was a small child when the fire started. At the inquest into her death, a statement was read out describing “snowflakes falling, and playing in the snowflakes.”
Tragically the “snowflakes” were the cause of her illness, but a verdict of accidental death was recorded rather than one of industrial disease. If the asbestos exposure had been related to her father’s work with asbestos, the verdict might have meant that compensation could have been claimed.
A “ticking time bomb”
The Shropshire Star has described the aftermath of the fire as a “ticking time bomb” and suggests that hundreds of people in the area could potentially be affected at some point. Another fire took place in 1988, but this time local residents were warned to keep their windows and doors closed.
The Shropshire coroner has kept open the files on the COD Donnington fires, so that any future cases of asbestos-related illness can be linked to them if necessary.
Falling asbestos dust and fibres are a specific danger in a fire or debris situation, with the collapse of the twin towers being a particular case in point. Several of those involved in the attack, both workers and firefighters, are said to have been affected by breathing in the dust when the towers collapsed.
Famous for being the ‘dust lady,’ Marcy Borders passed away this year from stomach cancer she believed was caused by the 9/11 attacks.