Scots asbestos victims share how 'secret killer' impacts their lives

Those who have suffered from contact with the toxic material have shared their experience in the first publication of its kind.

Clydebank asbestos victims share how ‘secret killer’ has impacted their lives in new landmark book Digby Brown LLP

Scots asbestos victims have shared their stories of how disease from the “secret killer” has affected them and their families.

One pensioner says he feels “robbed of my ability to play with my grandchildren” while a young woman with asbestos-related cancer has told how she was “diagnosed when my life was only really just starting”.

A Clydebank campaign group, who have fought for justice for asbestos victims for 30 years have collaborated on a landmark new book which tells the poignant, personal accounts of people affected by asbestos related disease.

Some people like former shipbuilders or tradesmen developed conditions after inhaling toxic fibres at work while others – especially women – have no idea how they were exposed to asbestos.

Laura Evans is one of the youngest patients in Scotland with mesothelioma, a type of cancer that develops in the lining that covers the outer surface of some of the body’s organs. It is normally linked to asbestos exposure.

The 32-year-old, who did not have direct contact with asbestos when she was diagnosed, said she hopes her account in the book ‘Asbestos and Clydebank’ will shock readers.

Laura Evans has shared her story of diagnosis despite not having contact with asbestos directly.

Born and bred in Clydebank, Ms Evans believes she may have contacted the toxic material at primary or secondary school.

She said: “I was diagnosed when my life was only really just starting so I need to believe there’s something more to this otherwise it’s like ‘Wat has been the point of being on this planet for such a short length of time?'”

She added: “It sounds morbid but the reality is, when I die I want to know my story is there so that more people will take notice.

“I actually hope people are a little shocked when they read this book because what happened is shocking. Cancer is not something that goes away – you’re always affected by it and so are the people around you.

“I really hope that asbestos is removed from all public buildings and homes – there’s no asbestos that’s safe so leaving it alone is not an option.”

Jimmy McFarlane, 83, developed pleural plaques, small scars on the lungs, after being exposed to asbestos while working as a heating engineer.

The pensioner, from Bowling in West Dunbartonshire, was supported by the Clydebank Asbestos Group (CAG) who collaborated to create the book along with Digby Brown Solicitors.

Jimmy McFarlane, 83, developed pleural plaques after exposer to asbestos.

He said: “Like the majority of people I never knew about CAG but I was always worried about knowing what to do and I don’t want anyone else to feel lost.

“Asbestos needs to be removed – it’s a secret killer and has to be dealt with to stop people being poisoned and that’s why it was important to take part in this book and get the message out there.”

John McCormick, 73, suffers from asbestosis after working as a scaffolder at Connell’s yard in Scotstoun.

He has also shared his account in book and says: “The people of the Clyde deserve more. Nowadays not enough people know the truth.

“When you think about the Pride of the Clyde, I bet no one thinks about asbestos.

“Aye, they know about shipbuilding but not the asbestos or the diseases.

“When I told my daughter I had asbestosis she didn’t understand what it was. I’ve been robbed of my ability to paint, to play my ukulele or play with my grandchildren.”

While research exists on asbestos it is thought ‘Asbestos and Clydebank’ is the first publication of its kind to gather first-hand accounts of people affected by disease.

Each sufferer interviewed for the book, tells a poignant, personal story highlighting the impact of asbestos-related disease.

It is hoped the accounts will raise awareness to improve health and social care and protect future generations.

Rachel Gallagher, CAG Co-ordinator, said: “We are incredibly humbled by the strength, dignity and passion shown by each person who chose to share their experiences in Asbestos and Clydebank.

“West Dunbartonshire has frequently topped national tables for asbestos-disease, undoubtedly due to past shipbuilding and heavy industry, but it affects all of Scotland.

“For 30 years we have fought for truth and justice but the truth is CAG is needed just as much today as it was in the early 1990s.

Rachel Gallagher, Jimmy McFarlane, Laura Evans, Fraser Simpson.

“Asbestos use may have been banned in 1999 but it is still in our communities – in the buildings and in asbestos diseases which contributes to a devastating heritage.

“We therefore hope the relevant stakeholders who read the real stories of real people may consider a more strategic and joined up approach to protect future generations.”

The 44-page book tells a history of asbestos and heavy industry.

It was developed as part of CAG’s 30th anniversary, as the charity looks back over three decades of frontline care and campaigning.

Professor Andrew Waterson, an occupational health and safety expert, spoke in the book about the importance of hearing from real people, saying: “It’s the lost voices that need to be captured.

“Speaking to real people brings a new dimension to things as that’s where you find where the significance is as it’s probably been neglected.”

Digby Brown Solicitors, which has supported people with asbestos legal action and fundraising efforts, helped produce the book.

Fraser Simpson, head of the firm’s Industrial Disease team, said: “The work of CAG is hugely important from decades of campaigning work, which is recognised in the book, to the free holistic daily support it provides for hundreds of families.

“The vision for the book was commendable because it rightly – and finally – places the spotlight on real people and their communities to give them recognition they deserve so we were passionate in providing support to turn this vision into a reality.

“Asbestos and Clydebank therefore is not just interesting or informative reading material – it is a vital social document that I hope will be a catalyst for positive action to improve the future.”

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