1. Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral which has been used for thousands of years! The Greeks and Romans were the first to realise its potential and use it for example as insulation and heat and flame retardant. They also realised it was potentially harmful as they noticed that the slaves who mined it often died as a result of inhaling the dust.
2. The asbestos mineral is mined from the earth. South Africa has many such mines, some of which are open! Many miners have developed asbestos disease as a result.
3. The asbestos mineral in its natural state is harmless.
4. Asbestos becomes potentially harmful to health when it is mined or used in the manufacture of other products, essentially once it is in dust or fibrous form and capable of being inhaled or swallowed it becomes potentially harmful to health and can cause asbestos disease.
5. Exposure to asbestos dust/fibres by way of inhalation and/or swallowing can lead to the development of one or more of the following asbestos diseases: malignant mesothelioma, asbestos lung cancer; asbestosis, pleural thickening and pleural plaques.
6. Malignant mesothelioma and asbestos lung cancer are, as their names suggest, forms of cancer and have no cure.
7. Asbestosis is scarring on the lungs which can cause problems with the respiratory system and whilst not so aggressive as malignant mesothelioma and asbestos lung cancer it usually gets worse over time. Although not normally a fatal condition in itself it often combines with other health issues to become a serious health issue. A recent Court decision has made it harder for sufferers of this conditions to obtain compensation for asbestosis. No compensation will be payable unless the asbestosis is sufficient to have an effect on lung function. Those who qualify will see their compensation reduced as a result of this court judgment.
8. Pleural thickening is thickening of the linings of the lungs and can cause symptoms of breathlessness and pain. Although not a fatal condition in itself it is evidence of exposure to asbestos and therefore a marker of the risks of developing one of the more serious asbestos diseases i.e. malignant mesothelioma or asbestos lung cancer. A recent Court decision has made it harder for sufferers of this conditions to obtain compensation for pleural thickening. No compensation will be payable unless the asbestosis is sufficient to have an effect on lung function. Those who qualify will see their compensation reduced as a result of this court judgment.
9. Pleural plaques are patches of fibrosis (scarring) of the lungs and are often calcified. They rarely cause symptoms of breathlessness and pain. Although not a fatal condition in themselves, they are, like pleural thickening, they are evidence of exposure to asbestos and therefore a marker of the risks of developing the more serious asbestos diseases.
10. Despite pleural plaques representing scarring on the lungs sufferers are no longer entitled to receive compensation for them. This is despite the fact that for the 20 years or so prior to 2006 compensation was routinely paid by insurers for this condition! There is an important distinction to be made here and that is if the pleural plaques are causing symptoms eg pain and breathlessness the sufferer is entitled to compensation.