UK Woman’s Death Highlights Dangers of Asbestos Exposure

The Shields Gazette, an evening newspaper serving the United Kingdom, reported this week that “Annie Shotton, originally from South Shields, died, aged 80, in December from the asbestos-related lung cancer mesothelioma.” According to the news source, the woman’s cancer was caused by the deadly asbestos fibers on her husband’s overalls. The family is currently appealing for information concerning her husband’s work life and the extent to which he was exposed to the hazardous substance. According to the Shields Gazette, Mrs. Shotton was first diagnosed with mesothelioma in March 2008. The article explains that “she never worked with asbestos, but her husband, Ernest, was exposed regularly during his career as an inspector for a number of paint companies.” Unfortunately, this was not the only location at which Mr. Shotton was exposed, as the Gazette explains that “his job took him to shipyards across the North East, where asbestos was also used.” Currently, the Shotton’s son, Phillip, is trying to find out more about the family’s exposure to asbestos, as his father also died in 1994. The Shields Gazette reports that “After reviewing Mrs. Shotton’s working history, it became clear she was exposed to asbestos from her husband’s work overalls. At the end of the working day, she would shake out the dust before washing them in a twintub.” The article goes on to quote Phillip Shotton, who explains that “‘My dad came home covered in dust from the shipyards. My mum washed his clothes every day, and never dreamt that it would cause her death. It’s devastating to know that his lifelong work caused her death, which is why we feel it is important to find out exactly how this happened. We want to hear from anyone who worked for – or knows anything about – the paint companies and the work they did in the shipyards at the time my dad was there, so we can find out more.’” The story of the Shotten family is a sad but not uncommon one. Secondhand exposure to asbestos fibers is extremely dangerous and can often lead to the same diseases as direct exposure, such as mesothelioma. Asbestos fibers are small and when freed they easily travel into the home on the clothing and hair of those working around it. The dust is then easily ingested or inhaled, especially with such close contact as shaking out the clothes and handling them to be washed. Once inside the body, asbestos embeds itself in the tissues lining vital organs, acting as a lethal carcinogen. As illustrated by Mrs. Shotten’s age when she died, this cancer’s growth can be delayed for years, even decades before symptoms are exhibited. In fact, mesothelioma is known for its extremely long latency period. Most cases are not diagnosed until the cancer has developed into the later stages, as early symptoms can mimic less serious ailments, if they are even present at all. The great length of time separating initial exposure and the development of symptoms is why education concerning asbestos exposure is paramount to an early diagnosis. To help diagnose this disease earlier, those who worked in locations where asbestos was present are encouraged to speak with a medical professional regarding their chances of developing an asbestos-related illness or disease. Furthermore, the Shields Gazette article also shows the importance of seeking this medical attention if secondhand exposure is even a possibility.
  • Kelly, Terry. (October 10, 2011) “Mum ‘killed by washing husband’s work clothes’.” Retrieved on October 11, 2011 from The Shields Gazette.
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