MESOTHELIOMA has been spoken about for a long time among Scotland’s health and safety community.

For those unfamiliar with the disease it is a type of cancer that develops in the lining that covers the outer surface of some of the body’s organs and is usually linked to asbestos exposure. Scotland currently has the highest global incidence of the condition.

Robert Howie, an occupational hygienist and one of Scotland’s leading experts on asbestos, has warned the worst is yet to come in terms of asbestos deaths.

Mr Howie and other specialists predict that, about three times as many people will die over the next three decades as have up until now. This is largely because the current official estimates don’t account for future life expectancy.

In the past working class men exposed to asbestos would never have lived long enough to develop asbestos-related disease; now they will.

Put into stark numerical terms this means there could be as many as 130,000 male mesothelioma deaths between 2014 and 2049.

Shocking as this is, Scotland’s health authorities have long known about the threat posed, and the whole issue of asbestos-related deaths has been the subject of campaigning and legal cases for an equal length of time.

Today legal firms are warning of the growing number of cases they are handling of people exposed in hospitals, schools, leisure centres and other public buildings.

Why has more not been done to address a problem that is clearly not going away any time soon?

To date this has been a story of government dragging its heels on safety concerns. Here in the UK, safe limits based on the European Carcinogen Directive – asbestos is a carcinogen - has never been enforced. Now given Brexit, that process is even less likely to happen.

The current Health and Safety Executive (HSE) approved level of asbestos fibre is 10,000 fibres per cubic metre which many experts say is still way too high, with some warning children and others will continue to be exposed to an unacceptable level of risk.

Then there is the pressing question of routine maintenance and general dilapidation of buildings that cause a release of asbestos fibres into the air.

Once hailed as a “miracle” substance by the construction industry, asbestos was widely used in building materials until it was banned in 1999. Today asbestos has become more than just an uncomfortable relic of industrial history.

As more and more people are being diagnosed with asbestos-related illnesses every year, is has become an enormous health challenge stalking Scotland and the wider UK.

As Mr Howie rightly says, the time has come for the government of the day to face up this unpalatable fact.

To date the record of our politicians in facing this challenge has been poor to say the least. Across the board, from health and safety standards to building maintenance and the need to address compensation claims, greater urgency must now be given to asbestos deadly legacy.

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