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Was engineer exposed to asbestos via food?

It is thought that a man from Brechin could have been exposed to asbestos when dust and fibres landed in his food. Trevor Jones’ job as an engineer involved working with people who drilled through walls containing asbestos, prior to laying communication cables.

His long career spanned over 50 years, but during that time a substantial amount of asbestos fibre could potentially have been ingested. He was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma in December 2015, a month after being made redundant from his job.

What is peritoneal mesothelioma?

Malignant mesothelioma generally takes two forms, and is a disease associated with asbestos exposure. Pleural mesothelioma affects the thin membrane lining the lungs, and makes it increasingly difficult for the sufferer to breathe normally.

Peritoneal mesothelioma attacks the lining of the abdomen, causing it to thicken. Fluid collects in the abdominal cavity resulting in swelling and pain, loss of appetite and weight loss. Said to account for one case in every 12 of pleural mesothelioma, it is relatively rare in comparison.

Prognosis is poor for both types of the disease, however, partly because the symptoms are generally advanced when the sufferer seeks medical help, with survival rates usually being a year or less on average.

Asbestos dust and fibres landed in food

Mr Jones was told that he might have three years to live following his diagnosis. His case highlights how pervasive asbestos can be, and how just a few fibres over a long period of time can have devastating effects decades later.

He described how the asbestos dust and fibres could have found their way into his food:

“I would sit in my work clothes eating sandwiches at my desk or in the canteen ….. If any asbestos fell on your clothes, you brushed it off casually with your hands not knowing the danger.”

It’s clear that a lack of awareness about the dangers of asbestos existed among workers in the past. Mr Jones went on to say:

“We were never warned that we worked in an area with asbestos. I certainly never thought this cancerous substance could be swallowed and cause cancer.”

Diane Foster, an officer with Asbestos Action Tayside, said some asbestos victims were told by employers that drinking milk would wash the fibres through their system.

Secondary exposure to asbestos

Reports of wives and children suffering ‘second-hand’ asbestos-related illness are also common. It was often the case that workers went home wearing overalls covered in asbestos dust, with no knowledge of the danger they were in.

Even hugging their children on arrival back home potentially exposed them to serious health issues in later life. Nowadays health and safety legislation ensures that, in the main, the risks of exposure are limited.

The Control of Asbestos Regulations, 2012, lays down the procedures required to deal with asbestos, with the Health and Safety Executive charged with protecting worker safety, and having power to enforce the rules.