Alice Mahon, a former Member of Parliament, passed away last year at the age of 85 due to malignant mesothelioma, a cancer linked to asbestos exposure. In response, her son, Kris, is urging for the removal of asbestos from all buildings to safeguard lives. Asbestos, a material known to cause cancer when inhaled, is the leading cause of work-related deaths in the UK.
Mahon, a former Halifax MP, was a staunch advocate for asbestos victims and supported calls for a public inquiry into the high occurrence of asbestos-related diseases among former power industry workers. She claimed to have been exposed to the dangerous material while working as an auxiliary nurse at a West Yorkshire hospital during the 1960s and 1970s. Additionally, Mahon believed that she could have been exposed to asbestos during her 17-year tenure in Parliament.
Kris, who now works as a law professor in New Zealand, is calling for more action from the UK government. He argues that asbestos should not be left in place, stating, “The government has a duty to protect lives from a known, indiscriminate killer such as asbestos: that requires proactive action to locate and remove asbestos.”
In 2019, over 5,000 asbestos-related deaths were recorded, including those from cancers such as mesothelioma. Last year, the Commons Work and Pensions Committee called for a strategy with a 40-year deadline to remove all asbestos from public and commercial buildings. The charity Mesothelioma UK is campaigning for a register of all workplaces in the country that contain asbestos and a timetable for its eradication. They describe the situation as a “ticking time bomb” and urge the government to prioritise high-risk environments such as schools and hospitals.
Asbestos was identified in 680 rooms across the parliamentary estate in surveys conducted between 2019 to 2022 by the parliamentary maintenance services team. A UK Parliament spokesperson stated, “As with many historical buildings, asbestos is present – and appropriately managed. The risk to anyone on the estate is very low.” However, the Public Accounts Committee recently released a report that found a growing list of health and safety incidents within Parliament, including some involving asbestos exposure.
Concerning asbestos in Parliament, Kris says, “Every workplace, including such grand places as the Palace of Westminster, should be a safe place. The risks of asbestos are so well known now, and have been for decades, that steps to identify and remove asbestos from all workplaces should have been completed by now.”
The UK Health Security Agency advises against removing asbestos without expert guidance. People are encouraged to contact their local council for more information about its removal and disposal.
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