Government funding of £5 million will help to establish a mesothelioma research centre in the north-east of England, where thousands of workers in the shipbuilding industry were exposed to asbestos over a long period of time.
North and South Tyneside were at the heart of a prolific shipbuilding industry, and the area’s population has paid a heavy price. Statistics show that the death rate here from mesothelioma is more than twice the average when compared with the rest of the UK.
Between 2010 and 2014, malignant mesothelioma took the lives of 186 people in north and south Tyneside. Although asbestos in the shipbuilding industry was the major influence in causing these deaths, construction and the automotive industry also carried a risk of exposure to asbestos.
Closing down the shipyards
It is said that a quarter of all the ships worldwide were built in Sunderland at one point, and when North East Shipbuilders Ltd closed down in 1988, it brought to an end over 600 years of shipbuilding activity in the area.
The legacy of illness and asbestos-related disease has been acknowledged by the government with their donation to mesothelioma research. Currently, life-expectancy for victims is less than one year, and as it is usually diagnosed at an advanced stage, quality of life will already have declined.
Research into treatment for mesothelioma victims
With an estimated 30,000 people expected to die from mesothelioma during the next 30 years, it’s vital that progress is made in treating the disease. It is an aggressive form of cancer that leaves the sufferer with severe breathing problems, and with no cure at present, the prognosis for many people is poor.
Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation, Dr Penny Woods, commented:
“….. for too long research into this deadly cancer has been underfunded. We look forward to working with Government to make sure this funding has the sustained impact patients deserve.”
According to figures shown on the National Asbestos Helpline website, mesothelioma research was allocated just £820,000 compared with funding of £9.9 million and £5.3 million for melanoma and myeloma skin cancers respectively.
The Washington Chemical Company (WCC)
Worker health in the area of Tyneside was further compromised by the presence of the Washington Chemical Company Ltd, which merged with asbestos manufacturer, Turner and Newall, in 1920.
The WCC factory manufactured and supplied products containing asbestos, employing tradespeople including plumbers and heating engineers, as well as staff to work with the raw material.
It wasn’t only factory workers who were exposed to asbestos particles on a regular basis, however. Local children reportedly played in piles of asbestos, inhaling large amounts of the dust and fibre.
Dr Woods described the positive impact this funding from the government could have on the outcome for victims in the future:
“There is no cure for mesothelioma, but for too long research into this deadly cancer has been underfunded. We look forward to working with Government to make sure this funding has the sustained impact patients deserve.”