The cost to insurers of asbestos compensation claims has been forecast at $100 billion. It is said the asbestos industry as a whole has already paid out around $64 billion for exposing workers to the toxic substance.
This rising cost of compensation for asbestos exposure can be attributed to various factors, including our increased life expectancy, the high cost of medical treatment for asbestos patients, and the ever-increasing costs associated with litigation.
Asbestos diseases have unique characteristics, and often only manifest over a long period of time. Exposure victims often begin to experience shortness of breath, they can develop a chronic cough, and suffer fatigue that does not relent.
The long latency period and increased life expectancy
The long latency period that is a specific feature of asbestos-related disease, can be as long as 60 years from the initial exposure. In conjunction with the fact that our life expectancy is considerably longer than in the 1950s for example, a grim scene is set for many more years of asbestos illness for those who worked with the substance.
When an asbestos victim begins to notice their symptoms the disease is often at a late stage, and the type of medical interventions may be limited. Nevertheless, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery, could all be options.
The costs of these treatments will be included in some insurance claims, and form part of the $100 billion bill for insurers mentioned earlier.
Is secondary exposure also to blame for the rising cost to insurers?
Worrying cases of secondary exposure are emerging, involving children of those who worked with asbestos during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. In these cases, it is likely that workers returned home to their families wearing overalls covered with asbestos dust and fibres.
It is not difficult to imagine their children being exposed to asbestos at home – as particles became trapped within the rooms, inhalation of fibres would have been unavoidable. This potentially leads to a devastating diagnosis that impacts two generations.
Diagnoses such as malignant mesothelioma, which is an incurable form of lung cancer attributed to asbestos exposure, as well as other forms of asbestos cancers and related respiratory diseases that change people’s lives forever.
The cost of asbestos in our schools
The BBC recently reported that 32 local councils in England have paid out compensation of around £10 million following asbestos claims by former teachers, pupils, school office and maintenance staff.
In fact, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) has estimated between 200-300 former pupils are suffering terminal illness due to their asbestos exposure as a child. With so much asbestos present in our older schools – within the walls, floors, ceilings and heating systems – its degradation is a particular concern given that it may have been in place for decades.
Although school buildings are of particular concern to asbestos campaigners, it is true to say that any building in the UK constructed prior to 2000 is likely to contain the substance to some degree.