Birds pecking at asbestos roof caused industrial illness

Anthony Jones was only 57 years old when he died from mesothelioma, an aggressive form of lung cancer attributed to asbestos exposure. An inquest in Gloucester concluded that industrial illness caused his death, after birds had pecked at the asbestos roof of his workplace for a prolonged period of time.

Although not knowingly working with the substance, asbestos dust and fibres were said to have dropped consistently onto Mr Jones’ clothing whilst he packed up customer orders. Having worked at the site for 13 years, the long-term health effects proved devastating.

He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in the summer of 2014, and died around a year later. A pathologist reported that Mr Jones had “9,355 asbestos fibres in each gram of dry lung tissue – a level consistent with work exposure,” and recorded industrial illness as the reason for his death.

Asbestos cement roof

A former cleaner at the workplace also stated there were “pipes high up in the building.” She added, “There has always been a problem with birds coming in. They were constantly pecking on the roof, which I believe to be asbestos-based.”

Asbestos cement is a mix of chrysotile (white asbestos) and cement, and it was often used in roof construction at the time. Although these types of cement sheets are said to be safe when intact, once they’re damaged, dangerous fibres and dust are released into the air.

Asbestos was widely used to insulate pipe work in older buildings, and could also have been a source of the problem. Mr Jones worked at the premises between 1972 and 1985, before asbestos was banned in this country.

Not only tradespeople at risk

Recent victims of asbestos-related illness include teachers and doctors. Indeed anyone working in an older building is potentially at risk of exposure due to the widespread use of asbestos as an insulator, as well as for fireproofing.

It can be found in many areas of a building, including ceiling tiles and partition walling within classrooms. Figures show that twenty-two school teachers died from mesothelioma in 2012, and there have been 177 such deaths since 2001.

Worryingly, if school teachers have been exposed to asbestos in the classroom, it is highly likely that their pupils will also be vulnerable to asbestos-related illness in later life. In fact, it has been estimated that 200-300 deaths will occur each year in adulthood, following exposure to the substance as a schoolchild.

Small but consistent damage

In some cases, teachers have released asbestos particles into the air when pinning children’s artwork to a classroom wall containing asbestos. These low levels are considerably magnified when released consistently, however, and the teacher is in direct line of the damage.

In Mr Jones’ case, the consistent pecking action of birds on a roof would cause only small areas of damage initially, but these would be significant in terms of the overall level of asbestos released long-term.