Shocking toll of mesothelioma deaths cast shadow over region
The deadly asbestos-related cancer has claimed the lives of almost 4,000 men and women from across Yorkshire and the Humber over the last three decades.
More than 3,082 men and 645 women from the region have died from the incurable condition since 1981.
And Leeds has been named as a mesothelioma “hot spot” by campaigners after figures from the Health and Safety Executive revealed that more than 760 people have died from the disease in the city since the 1980s.
Exposure can take up to 50 years to show signs of the incurable condition and experts warn the death toll is likely to peak over the next five years.
The daughter of a Leeds mesothelioma victim whose legacy is a research charity said she was not surprised by the increase in deaths.
Kimberley Stubbs said that the scale of the illness which claimed her mother June Hancock was “horrendous”.
She said: “Leeds, sadly, is a mesothelioma hot-spot because of the JW Roberts factory spewing the asbestos dust out into the streets of Armley.
“It is also important to remember that people are still being exposed to asbestos – it is in our schools, our public buildings, even in houses.
“Workmen come across it innocently in their jobs.
“I find this frightening, distressing and altogether unacceptable.
“Mesothelioma is a disease of the past, the present and the future.”
Her mother was diagnosed in 1994 with mesothelioma decades after growing up in Armley, Leeds, where she played in asbestos dust from the JW Roberts factory.
Shortly before Mrs Hancock’s death, she won a “David and Goliath” test case against the firm’s parent company.
In 1997 the June Hancock Mesothelioma Research Fund was started and since 1997 the charity has raised more than £3.3m.
Former Leeds West MP John Battle, who supported victims of mesothelioma over two decades, said the toll of victims also include a number of engineers who were exposed to the deadly dust while working in the city.
He said: “If anything I think the total number of deaths will be higher in a few years time.
“A lot of people think Leeds was full of textile industry but the biggest industries were engineering and that was also a source of the problem for asbestos.
“Mesothelioma is a terrible death to witness for anyone and it really drags them through the gates of hell.
“We need to ensure that we still continue to keep June Hancock’s memory and campaign alive today.”
Ian Toft, from Leeds-based law firm Irwin Mitchell, said it is a “complicated picture” to attribute the causes for the number of mesothelioma-linked deaths in the city.
He said: “Across the region the number of deaths are increasing and the statistic seem to show they will peak towards the end of this decade.”
Jamie Hanley, who acted as legal representative to many asbestos victims, said: “The number of men and women dying from this terrible cancer has more than doubled in the past three decades.”
He added: “Deaths in Leeds from mesothelioma are not now expected to peak until 2020; a goal post that seems to be forever moving backwards.”
Comment: Page 10.