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8 March 2023 | Comment | Article by Lucy Strong

Asbestos and the women who embrace equity


The theme of International Women’s Day 2023 is #EmbraceEquity. To mark this day, Lucy Strong and Aimee Boundford from the Asbestos claims team look at some of the women who have embraced equity in the mesothelioma community and the impact for good that this has had on present day mesothelioma sufferers and their families.

Asbestos and the women who embrace equity

Women and the use of contaminated talc

In recent years, there has been an increasing awareness concerning the presence of asbestos fibres in cosmetic talc. Talc and asbestos are naturally occurring silicate minerals that are similar in form. Both minerals were historically mined in close proximity, which led to the contamination of cosmetic talc with asbestos.

Predominantly, it is the female population who regularly use and come into contact with products which contain talc. Women who use cosmetic talc, including talcum powders, baby powders and face powders are often unaware of the dangers associated with these products. Nevertheless, asbestos-contaminated cosmetic talc products continue to be sold by cosmetic companies and used by millions of women worldwide.

Sadly, we are seeing an increase in the number cases involving women who suffer from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions where the only known exposure to asbestos is through the use and application of cosmetic talc. In contrast to many women who were historically exposed to asbestos through the laundering of their husband’s asbestos- contaminated work overalls, we see women who have used cosmetic talc throughout their adolescence and early adulthood receive a diagnosis of mesothelioma at a very young age.

Women therefore continue to be at the forefront of the mesothelioma and asbestos- related disease agenda as victims of contaminated talc exposure.

With this in mind we take a look back at some of the women who been at the forefront of asbestos related disease in years gone by.

Nellie Kershaw

Nellie Kershaw was the first reported medical case of an asbestos related death in 1924, having died from asbestosis. Nellie, from Rochdale started working in the industry aged only 12, transferring to the Turner Brothers Asbestos as a spinner in 1917. She started experiencing health problems at the age of 29 but continued to work with asbestos until 1922, when she sadly passed away.

The inquest of her death changed the way asbestos was viewed forever. When Nellie’s death certificate was issued on 2nd April 1924, it cited ‘fibrosis of the lungs due to the inhalation of mineral particles’ as the cause of death, paving the way for what it known today as ‘Asbestosis’.

This led to the publication of the first Asbestos Industry Regulations 1931, a crucial development of statutory duty on those working within the industry. This would eventually lead to more far-reaching statutory duties in the form of the Factories Act 1961, Asbestos Regulations 1969 and Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 1987. These are the regulations which lawyers tend to rely upon when pursuing claims on behalf of mesothelioma and asbestos related disease sufferers in the twenty first century.

Nora Dockerty

Nora Dockerty’s family were the first in the UK to receive compensation for her death from an asbestos related disease in 1952. Nora worked at Turner Brothers Asbestos in Rochdale for 13 years. The law firm of Messrs John Whittle, Robinson & Bailey were instructed to act for the family. The case was finally settled in January 1952 when Turner & Newall, Turner Brother Asbestos’ parent company, paid the sum of £375 with costs.

The Dockerty family paved the way for many thousands of families to follow in their footsteps and pursue companies across the UK for their negligence and failure to protect their workers; men and women alike.

If you, or anyone you know, is suffering from Mesothelioma, Lung Cancer or any other asbestos related condition, they can contact a member of the asbestos team at Hugh James on 0808 231 0963 to discuss a potential claim on a no obligation basis. All cases are pursued on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis.

Muriel Newhouse and Hilda Thompson

In 1965, Dr Muriel Newhouse and Hilda Thompson published an article titled “Mesothelioma of pleura and peritoneum following exposure to asbestos in the London area”.

The report highlighted that even low levels of exposure to respirable asbestos dust could lead to the development of mesothelioma with a focus on what is known today as ‘secondary exposure’ or ‘overalls cases’, where typically wives who washed their husband’s overalls or work clothes went on to develop mesothelioma.

The decision to challenge the status quo by Dr Muriel Newhouse and Hilda Thompson created an important link enabling claims to be brought by those exposed to asbestos by washing their husband’s overalls after this date.
As a result, a large number of mesothelioma compensation claims on behalf of women and children exposed to asbestos via contaminated overalls have gone on to be successful. Such cases include women laundering overalls contaminated with asbestos from sites such as paper mills, steelworks, power stations or as tradesmen such as electricians or laggers to name but a few.

Without this research paper this would not have been possible.

June Hancock and Evelyn Margerson

June and Evelyn both pursued Turner & Newalls for environmental exposure to asbestos from the Armley Factory, Leeds.

June, sadly developed Mesothelioma which resulted in her sad death on 19th June 1997 while Evelyn’s husband, Arthur Margereson sadly passed away from Mesothelioma in 1991. Both families lived in close proximity to the factory but never actually worked in the factory.

This decision is important, as it set a precedent that the duty of care owed by an employer extended beyond employees to those who lived nearby and suffered deadly environmental exposure.

This has led to many legal cases being successfully pursued by local residents against the owners of large asbestos factories across the UK. A particular focus has been on the large number of residents from Barking who sadly developed mesothelioma having grown up or gone to school in the shadow of the Cape Asbestos site in the area.

Mavis Nye

In the 1950s Mavis met Ray Nye who at the time was undertaking an Apprenticeship at the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent. Unbeknown to Mavis and Ray, Ray was being exposed to fine asbestos fibres that clung to his clothes as he hugged Mavis.

Mavis was diagnosed with Mesothelioma in 2009 and has since worked tirelessly to raise awareness of Mesothelioma, working with likeminded victims, leading to the establishment of the Mavis Nye Foundation which was created to inspire victims of mesothelioma.

Mavis chose to, and continues to, embrace equity and this is particularly true for her work with clinical trials; Mavis is acknowledged as an integral part of the CONFIRM trial.

Trials such as these are paving the way for others to undergo and have access to potentially life saving treatment. As a result, treatment has become an integral part of legal claims brought by Hugh James with claims pursed for an indemnity for the cost of future treatment that may not be available on the NHS.

Liz Darlison

Liz is the Chief Executive Officer of Mesothelioma UK. She was awarded an MBE in 2019 for services to Cancer Research and Patients in honour of her work.

Mesothelioma UK is a national specialist resource centre, specifically for the asbestos-related cancer, mesothelioma. The charity is dedicated to providing specialist mesothelioma information, support and education, and to improving care and treatment for all UK mesothelioma patients and their carers.

Mesothelioma UK fund and support nurses across the UK who are each focused on ensuring Mesothelioma expertise is available at the front door of the NHS.

Mesothelioma UK also fund The Mesothelioma UK Research Centre at The University of Sheffield which was established in July 2020. The Centre conducts a portfolio of robust and rigorous research to benefit the care of people diagnosed with mesothelioma and their families. The co-directors of the Centre are Professor Angela Tod and Professor Clare Gardiner.

Hugh James are appointed to the legal panel of Mesothelioma UK, a legal panel established to ensure those suffering from Mesothelioma have access to specialist legal advice.

Support Groups

Invaluable support is also offered to those suffering from mesothelioma and their families by way of support groups across the UK, many of which were born from the desire to ensure equity to those diagnosed with the disease.

HASAG Asbestos Disease Support, the South West Asbestos Support Awareness Group (SWASAG), Asbestos Awareness Support Cymru (AASC) and the Glynnis Gale Foundation were all founded by daughters’ who have lost a parent to mesothelioma. They each had the courage to change the way that victims of mesothelioma are supported in their respective geographical areas with the establishment of support groups to ensure everyone had equal access to vital support.

This is of course only a snapshot of the challenges faced and overcome by men and women alike in raising awareness and fighting tirelessly for, and on behalf of, those suffering from Mesothelioma and other asbestos related conditions.

Author bio

Lucy is a partner in the asbestos litigation group and leads the team in Wales.  Lucy has extensive experience working on complex asbestos-related disease claims and regularly secures large compensation awards for her clients.

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.

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