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FEARS: The British Leyland plant in Bathgate closed in 1986.

Truck plant cancer timebomb


5 Apr 2005 - THOUSANDS of former truck factory workers in Lothian were today urged to have health checks amid fears many may have a rare form of asbestos-related cancer.

Concern has been voiced at the soaring number of illnesses, such as asbestosis, among former employees of the British Leyland plant in Bathgate.

Workers who were based at the plant before it closed almost 20 years ago are being advised to check for symptoms of the disease. The warning comes as four former employees diagnosed with mesothelioma - a cancer which is linked to exposure to asbestos - pursue cases for compensation.

Doctors have traced the most likely cause of the disease as exposure to asbestos at the former British Leyland plant in Bathgate - where all four worked. One of the sufferers was a secretary who worked with the firm for ten years and claims she was exposed to a daily dose of dangerous dust particles.

The four have taken their cases to specialist personal injury solicitor Thompsons.

Workers said they were shocked to find out they may have developed the disease while working at the former truck, tractor and van assembly factory, which employed more than 6000 people before it closed in 1986.

It could lead to a flood of compensation claims from ex-British Leyland staff and their families. It is understood lawyers are looking for around £50,000 in compensation for each sufferer.

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that most often occurs in the thin membrane lining of the lungs, chest, and abdomen.

It is understood thousands of workers in the factory’s infamous B-Block - which once held the largest concentration of heavy machinery in Europe - are at particular risk.

The block was never sealed off and was vulnerable to contamination from dust particles swept through from the factory’s heat treatment area, where pipefitters carried out repairs on gaskets made from asbestos.

Jim Swan, secretary of the West Lothian Trade Union Council, said the new cases were "the past catching up with us".

He said: "It can take up to 40 years before the symptoms of mesothelioma show up in people who were unfortunate enough to have breathed in the fibres.

"I recall the Pipefitters Trade Union having a dispute with the BL management in the 1970s. They wanted to be provided with respirators and protective clothes before they would carry out repairs on gaskets made from asbestos products.

"The management eventually conceded but did nothing about protecting other workers working in this vicinity. There now appears to be a link between the people with the condition and that area of the factory.

"The worrying part of this is that workers concerned did not work with asbestos and were unaware of breathing in the asbestos fibres. They were unfortunate to have carried out their employment in that vicinity."

Viv Towsey, co-ordinator of the Workers’ Benefit Advice Project, said: "Anyone who thinks they may have symptoms associated with an asbestos-related disease should contact us immediately."

'I feel let down. The only way to hurt them is to sue'

MADALENE Kerr, 63, from East Whitburn, worked at the factory as a secretary throughout the 1960s.

She was diagnosed with cancer several years ago and had a lung removed to curb the spread of the disease after being ill for almost 11 years.

But it was not until recent months that she was told exposure to asbestos dust in the Bathgate plant was the most likely cause of her illness.

The mother-of-three said it has been difficult to cope with the on-set of the disease and it has been equally hard on her family.

Her husband James had to retire two years earlier than expected to look after her.

Mrs Kerr is one of four cancer victims who have launched compensation cases after working at the plant.

She added: "I was shocked when I found out it was at British Leyland. I was doing secretarial work, you don’t expect to get asbestosis doing that.

"But our office was in the jungle, right in the middle of the factory.

"You could see all this dust coming from all the different parts of the machinery in the factory.

"I never thought there would be anything sinister about dust, and certainly didn’t expect it to be asbestos. They didn’t ever divulge the risks or even give us masks.

"I feel let down by the company, they’ve hurt me and the only way to hurt them is to sue them."

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