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Why are there so many asbestos-related disease deaths over 20 years after asbestos was banned in the UK?

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Global asbestos awareness week 1-7 April 2017

In 2020 alone, there was over 5,000 asbestos-related disease deaths, including mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. So the question remains, if the use of asbestos was banned in 1999, why are we still facing asbestos-related deaths over 20 years on?

The answer is that asbestos-related diseases typically have a long latency which means that they can take long periods of time to develop after exposure. Therefore, an individual who has been exposed to asbestos may not have symptoms until 20 to 30 years later, even if they have not been exposed to asbestos again since this time.


Mesothelioma is a form of cancer that primarily affects the external lining of the lung and the lining of the lower digestive tract. Over the past 50 years there has been a steep increase in annual deaths as a consequence of occupational asbestos exposure. In 2018, there were 2,446 mesothelioma deaths in Great Britain compared to 2,500 in 2020. 

Asbestos-related lung cancer

Asbestos-related lung cancer is one of the most common causes of lung cancer after smoking tobacco. Evidence suggests that there is around the same amount of annual deaths for asbestos-related lung cancer as mesothelioma of 2,500 per year. However, this is likely to decrease in the future with less asbestos exposures alongside fewer people smoking. 


Asbestosis is a form of pneumoconiosis which is characterised by scarring and inflammation of the lung tissue. Again, statistics show an increase in the number of people with asbestosis with around 100 deaths per year in the late 1970s compared to 503 deaths in 2018. 

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of asbestos-related disease include:

  • shortness of breath
  • persistent cough
  •  wheezing
  • extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • pain in the chest or shoulder
  • chronic respiratory infections
  • chest discomfort or pain
  • loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss
  • swollen fingertips
  • high temperature 

Who is most at risk?

People most at risk of asbestos-related disease include those who have worked in an industry such as building or construction, particularly from the 1970s to the 1990s when it was used in a wide range of products, particularly in insulation and building materials.

Overall, the majority of asbestos-related disease deaths nowadays are due to previous working conditions when asbestos was widely used. However, workers who are involved in refurbishment, maintenance and other similar trades, could still, even today, be at risk of exposure to asbestos, particularly if the work is being carried out on old buildings. Therefore, employers and employees need to take extra caution when working in and around sites that could contain asbestos. 

If you believe that you have developed an asbestos related disease as a result of your working environment then contact us on 0161 696 6235 to speak to an expert about your claim. Our solicitors are experts in dealing with a wide range of industrial disease and accident at work compensation claims including asbestos related disease claims and can help you get the compensation deserve.

By Jessica McIntyre-Burgess, graduate paralegal in the personal injury team