London, England - The United Kingsom’s Health & Safety Executive (HSE), headquartered in London, recently released a report stating that approximately 8,000 Britons die each year from occupational cancers and that about 14,000 new cases are reported yearly. Many of illnesses are caused by hazardous substances found in the workplace and are entirely preventable.
One such toxic substance and a relatively common occupational hazard is asbestos. This carcinogenic mineral was used in building material, insulation, shipbuilding and break and other industry throughout the 19th century and most of the 20th. It was eventually banned for causing lung cancer and mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the protective lining of the lungs, heart, chest and abdomen, but is still present in older structures and machinery.
Mesothelioma is a cancer attributed almost exclusively to prolonged asbestos exposure. It is a cancer that takes decades to develop – on average 40 years – yet it is terribly difficult to diagnose because symptoms don’t become apparent until the disease has reached stage three or four. Mesothelioma prognosis is often grim, with doctors predicting little more than a year and a half of life after diagnosis, even with treatment.
Other carcinogenic chemicals listed by the HSE include arsenic, benzene, beryllium and chromium. The handling of some organic solvents and fertilizers can also contribute to the development of cancer. Industrial jobs tend to have the highest carcinogen exposure rates, especially the glass, metal and oil industries.
The UK’s Workplace Exposure Limits dictate the maximum allowable exposure levels for most hazardous substances. However, these levels aren’t necessarily safe, and workers can still develop disease from these levels of exposure.