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Second Hand Asbestos Poisoning - How Does It Happen?

Many of us think of asbestos poisoning happens as a result of direct contact with this hazardous material. In most cases, this is correct.

People can be exposed to asbestos dust in the workplace or in other environments. They breathe in this dust and eventually (often decades later) develop an asbestos-related disease such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, pleural plaques or lung cancer.

However, it’s also possible to contract a serious and potentially life-threatening illness such as this in a less direct way. This is known as second hand asbestos poisoning.

High Court case sheds light on second hand asbestos poisoning

A recent case in the High Court highlighted this risk. The case involved a married couple, Jack and Paula Briggs from Dewsbury in West Yorkshire.

Jack Briggs was a factory worker with BBA Aviation Plc, where it’s believed he was exposed to asbestos as part of his work. Mr Briggs died of brain haemorrhage in 2011, but his wife fell ill with the asbestos related illness mesothelioma a few years later. She died of the cancer in March 2014.

A claim was lodged in the High Court in London in 2016 by the couple’s daughter Lisa Wharton on behalf of her late mother’s estate. The claim alleged that the employer in this case not only exposed Jack Briggs to toxic substances such as asbestos, but also exposed Paula Briggs to second hand asbestos poisoning.

Factory worker ‘unwittingly poisoned his wife’

According to a Telegraph report on the case, Mr Briggs would return home from the Cleckheaton factory in his work clothes and footwear. He would attempt to shake the dust from his clothes, but would then go to embrace his wife while still wearing the dust-covered clothing. This clothing, which it’s suspected was contaminated with asbestos, would then be placed in the laundry basket. Mrs Briggs typically did the laundry, and would have been further exposed to the dust when placing garments in the washing machine and cleaning up any dust from the floor.

This is all believed to have taken place as part of a normal routine for a number of years in the 1970s and 1980s, and lawyers for the Briggs family believe that second hand asbestos poisoning was responsible for Mrs Briggs’ death four decades later.

Diseases such as mesothelioma typically take a long time to develop, which means that many sufferers don’t experience symptoms until decades after their exposure to asbestos has taken place.

While raising this claim, the lawyer acting on behalf of the couple’s daughter alleged that the employer didn’t do enough to protect both the employee and his family from asbestos poisoning. He therefore argued that the employer’s negligence was responsible for Mrs Briggs’ death.

We have acted on behalf of family members who have developed an asbestos-related disease as a result of second hand asbestos poisoning for many years, although this is still a cause of asbestos-related disease that many people are unaware of.

Raising awareness of second hand asbestos exposure

Cases such as this one go a long way in raising awareness of the fact that second hand asbestos poisoning does exist, and how easily someone can unwittingly expose another person to asbestos. This is why the Health and Safety Executive has such stringent rules for dealing with asbestos, as well as serious punishments for those who breach the regulations.

Other causes of second hand asbestos poisoning

As well as coming into direct contact with someone who’s been exposed to asbestos, there are other ways that illnesses can be caused by second hand poisoning. These include:

  • Exposure in towns and areas where mining activities are in operation, where asbestos fibres are released into the air or enter the local water supply
  • Renovations or repairs in buildings, where asbestos-containing materials are disturbed

What to do if you think you’ve been exposed to asbestos

Anyone who believes they may have been exposed to asbestos, either directly or second hand, should seek immediate medical advice. If a previous partner, close friend or family member was ever diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, it’s possible that you could also have been exposed. However, these cases are not hugely common, so it’s important to remain calm.

You may not notice any symptoms, but those who do may experience chest pain, a persistent dry cough, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, appetite loss, weight loss and/or deformities of the nails or fingers. Anyone experiencing any of these symptoms, with whatever cause, should always seek medical advice as a matter of urgency.

Compensation claims for second hand asbestos poisoning

You can also make a compensation claim for asbestos exposure, whether direct or second hand. Slater and Gordon Lawyers is one of the largest personal injury firms in the UK, with a reputation for expertise and success in asbestos exposure cases. Due to their decades of experience with this type of personal injury case, our highly trained solicitors have specialist knowledge and expertise in second hand asbestos poisoning cases.

If you need our help to pursue compensation, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Call Slater and Gordon Lawyers on freephone 0808 175 8000 or use our online contact form.