Silent disaster kills worker

JAMES Marsh worked hard all his life for more than 50 years.But that work was to be the death of him when he was diagnosed as suffering from asbestosis.

By Jessica Nicholls

JAMES Marsh worked hard all his life for more than 50 years.

But that work was to be the death of him when he was diagnosed as suffering from asbestosis.

Now his bereaved family has launched a long, hard battle for compensation in a bid to highlight the terrible ravages of the disease and help others.

It is the silent disaster, the silent killer that no-one could have predicted.

This year has been one of grief and turmoil for Portia Marsh and her family.

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In March, her 73-year-old husband James died after a short but devastating illness caused by being exposed to asbestos.

He died on Good Friday just one day before they were due to celebrate 45 years of marriage.

In an inquest a verdict was recorded of death by industrial disease. It was heard that Mr Marsh had been exposed to asbestos and had died of bronchial pneumonia and respiratory failure due to a malignant tumour in his lung.

Four months before his death, James had been fighting off what he and the family thought was a chest infection.

His daughter Julie Velzian said: "The doctor thought it was a chest infection too but when they took him for a chest x-ray it showed up asbestosis."

From that moment on the family's life changed completely. James had always looked after Portia, who suffers from emphysema, done the housework and the shopping and looked after his beloved rabbits, cats and dog called Patch.

But soon after the diagnosis his weight plummeted and he could no longer fend for himself.

Julie, 43 from Rands Way said: "In 14 weeks he had gone from being a 17 stone man to an eight or nine stone man.

"But he had never been ill until then – it came on so suddenly.

"He was just not the man I knew."

Since he was 14, James had worked at Ipswich docks as a general labourer and eventually worked as a lock gate keeper.

Little did he or any of his colleagues realise that working so hard every day they were coming face to face with a killer.

Julie said: "It (asbestos) was a product used because at the time it was a good idea, but it had a fatal outcome.

"Nowadays we are always trying to protect our workforce against small industrial accidents but this was an industrial accident no-one saw happening."

It is for that reason that the family has vowed never to give up on their battle for compensation.

Portia, 73 said: "I just want them (businesses) to accept that it is a killer."

Julie said: "Whatever we get is not going to bring my father back.

"My mum has lost 45 years of marriage and my dad died after fourteen weeks as a result of his working life.

"But what about the younger sufferers, some of them are younger than my father, they still have children and a life in front of them?"

Julie, her brother Nigel and sister Helen all know the battle for compensation will be long and hard and Portia realises that she might not be alive to see the outcome.

The Law Lords last month overturned a Court of Appeal ruling that had denied compensation to victims of asbestosis because they could not prove which of several employers had been responsible for their illnesses.

Julie knows this will make life a little easier but is not hopeful that businesses will be quite as accepting.

She said: "The businesses do not want to pay.

"One man was awarded £160,000 in court but by the time he got to the courtroom door the company had appealed.

"But we will continue to fight for the principle of it and for other sufferers."

The family never told James what was wrong with him as they feared he might give up hope all together.

Julie said: "We told him he had got a disease from his hard working life.

"We did not tell him what was the matter – he would not have coped with it.

"He was crying – I have never seen my father cry before."

Soon after the diagnosis, the old life James knew had gone. A keen Ipswich Town fan, he loved to do his garden and was a familiar face in the nearby Labour social club.

But for his last four months, his family felt they were watching a stranger.

Julie said: "Everything just changed – he went from a man who enjoyed his food, the TV and a beer into not wanting to do anything.

"He did not want to watch TV anymore – he just wanted the darkness, he was lethargic and weak."


Asbestosis factfile:

Asbestos is a mineral fibre produced rock which is chiefly mined in South Africa and Canada. The material had impressive insulating and fire resistant qualities.

Asbestosis was first recognised in 1907.

There are three important types of asbestos, blue (crocidolite), brown (amosite) and white (chrysotile).

Asbestosis is a reaction of the lung, when asbestos fibres reach the bronchioles and air sacs, causing a fibrous thickening mainly in the lower parts of the lung.

Anyone coming into contact with asbestos is at risk, and this includes spouses and families of asbestos workers. Those most at risk are people involved in the making asbestos products, lagging, asbestos spraying, building, demolition, and laundering of asbestos worker's overalls.

Symptoms develop slowly after a period of exposure, which can vary from a few to many years.

Breathlessness occurs first and progresses as the lung loses its elasticity.

There may be little or no cough and chest pain seldom occurs.

The individual becomes weak and distressed on effort and, eventually, even at rest.

Unless periodic medicals are introduced the diagnosis will not be made until symptoms appear.

Early diagnosis is essential in order to prevent further exposure and worsening the condition.

More than 3,000 people a year die of asbestos diseases in the UK and the number is predicted to rise to 10,000 a year by 2020.


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