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UK Steel Plant Workers Alleged to Have Had “Snowball Fights” with Asbestos

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Splott, CardiffSadly, it appears to be an old story but one that still has a few chapters yet to be written. To that end, experts conversant with asbestosis disease in the UK say that asbestos cases from exposure dating back decades are not expected to peak before 2016.

Findings are similar in North America.

The latest round of asbestosis lawsuits appear to be stemming from the former East Moors Steelworks, a plant that operated in Splott, Cardiff, until its closure in 1978. However, the fact that the facility has been idle for 35 years has not prevented claims of asbestosis disease from individuals who toiled at the plant in its heyday.

One of those workers, according to WalesOnLine (9/30/13), is William Tobutt, a spry Welshman from Llanrumney who worked at East Moors as a bricklayer and union convener for a period of 20 years. His tenure ended with the closure of the plant.

He’s 83 now and has had no health problems to speak of, until he bent over to tie his shoelaces one day this past January and suddenly had trouble breathing. He was diagnosed with asbestos mesothelioma and given, at the outside, 14 months to live. Tobutt is undergoing chemotherapy treatment in hopes of extending that timeline.

One asbestosis attorney close to the case indicated in the report that while he has been pursuing many an asbestosis claim connected to the former East Moors plant for several years now, he has seen a spike in the number of cases recently. Asbestosis disease, including mesothelioma, has the uncanny capacity to lay dormant for as long as decades following exposure to asbestos, before suddenly emerging to result in certain death.

Asbestosis is difficult to treat and impossible to cure. In most cases, a diagnosis of asbestos lung disease is akin to a death sentence. Victims have little choice but to file an asbestosis claim to help with medical bills or to provide funds to their family after the victim’s death.

Asbestos was used historically as insulation and sheathing at a number of industrial sites over the years, and used widely for lagging pipe, furnace ducts and roof sheathing. Its use has been curtailed in recent years. However, there is evidence to suggest that asbestos was known as a carcinogen dating back to the early 1900s. Litigants suffering from asbestos pleural plaques claim that owners and operators of plants should have known about the dangers of asbestos, and should have mandated precautions on behalf of workers, to minimize or completely mitigate exposure.

Workers at the various sites had little idea that the material they were either working with or exposed to was dangerous in any way. One government official, who is attempting to table a private members bill to force employers to fund treatment for affected workers, noted that former employees of such facilities claim to have witnessed “snowball fights” with asbestos while on site. The allegations are that no employee was given protective gear, and there was no suggestion that the material was at all dangerous.

“I have heard of stories that came about with people having snowball fights in the 60s,” said Mick Antoniw. “Young apprentices that would join a workplace and then they’d have ‘snow time’ where they came in and they’d tip asbestos down on him, because they didn't know about it.”

It is not known if Tobutt has filed an asbestosis lawsuit. However, various attempts at asbestosis compensation are being filed through Zurich Commercial, the insurer of record for the East Moors plant at the time it was operating. East Moors was owned by British Steel when the decision was made to close the facility.

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