In the aftermath of one of the deadliest fires in United Kingdom history, that country’s coroner is urging that both residents and first responders who were exposed to the conflagration need to be screened for mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses as a result of asbestos exposure from the structure. Dr. Fiona Wilcox voiced her concerns at an inquest investigating the Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 72 people in 2017. The fire burned for more than 60 hours, releasing enormous amounts of potentially toxic smoke and dust into the environment. Her concern echoes those of residents and first responders who were in the vicinity of the World Trade Towers following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Dr. Wilcox expressed her concerns about mesothelioma in a letter directed to NHS England’s chief executive, saying that both rescue personnel and residents were likely exposed to “multiple toxic substances”, and most specifically to asbestos. She was particularly worried that a monitoring system had not already been put in place, warning that there was particular risk to children who were exposed to the dangerous environment. The building was built long before asbestos use was banned in the United Kingdom, and the carcinogenic material is known to have been a part of ceilings, cupboards and other areas of the building.
Exposure to asbestos can cause numerous significant illnesses, with the most deadly of these being malignant mesothelioma. There are also concerns about asbestosis, asbestos-related lung cancer, and the impact that breathing in asbestos-contaminated dust might have on those who already suffered from respiratory weakness or disease. In her letter Dr. Wilcox wrote, “Without an appropriate system of health screening, there is a risk that illness may arise unnoticed or present later in survivors, first responders and site workers, and thus reduce their life expectancy. Real concern has been expressed to me by the bereaved in relation to the health of survivors, especially children, and I have been informed that no physical health screening programme has been put in place to monitor the health of survivors on an ongoing basis.” She also specifically referenced the many health problems encountered by first responders who were involved in the recovery work following 9/11.
Though a recent report detected no asbestos fibers in the air around the site, at the time of the disaster the air was clogged with smoke and dust, giving rise to significant fear of mesothelioma and other illnesses. A survivors group has expressed their appreciation of the coroner’s suggestion, saying, “We are pleased the coroner has backed the calls from survivors and bereaved for the need for long-term health screenings. The potential long-term impacts of the fire must be taken seriously. The NHS are just about to start some screenings. We need to make sure this is the start of the long-term healthcare for survivors now and for years to come.”
If you or someone you love has been affected by exposure to asbestos, we are here to help. Contact the Patient Advocates at Mesothelioma.net today at 1-800-692-8608.