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The Cape Asbestos Factory
Posted by David Cant on April 29, 2013

Asbestos is a group of minerals that occur naturally and were used in building materials as well as vehicle brakes. Its purpose was to stop corrosion and resist heat and was thus used in homes and buildings as insulation. Fortunately, asbestos has been banned in the UK since 1999, but history shows that authorities knew of its potential health dangers close to 100 years prior to the ban.

Exposure to asbestos can lead to a deadly and aggressive cancer known as mesothelioma. Since asbestos was used by companies up until its ban, it is predicted that by the year 2016 the death toll annually will be reaching upwards of 5,000. Current figures as of 2012, showed an alarming 4,000 workers dying annually of mesothelioma, this exceeds the fatalities annually from automobile accidents.

Cape Asbestos Factory

The Cape factory was located just east of London in Barking. The factory closed in 1968 but people are still dying from exposure due to the latency before mesothelioma is diagnosed. It can take 20, 30, or even 40 years to become cancerous. Unfortunately, it is the exposure to asbestos that is now the UK’s number one killer among its workforce.

The Expansion of Factories and Early Knowledge of Disease

The Cape factory opened in 1893 with the goal of mining asbestos, which would be conducted in Orange Free State (South Africa) and later imported to other European countries. There were four factors by 1913 in London including the original factory in Barking. By 1929, many people were becoming ill that worked in and who lived around the factories.

The Barking Medical Officer of Health reported that people were coming down with a disease due to the direct inhalation of the asbestos dust. It affected not only those who worked inside the plants, but those living nearby. It also affected the wives who washed the clothes of their husbands or sons that worked in the factories and breathed in dust from the garments.

Asbestos Exposure

In 1929, the Medical Officer of Health stated two diseases that breathing the dust would cause, this included mesothelioma and asbestosis. In the report, it also addressed the latency issue and that the disease may not appear for many years after exposure.

In 1945, the medical officer made a statement that breathing the dust was deadly and should be banned.

Even with the new information and facts, asbestos continued being produced in the Cape factories until all closed in 1968.

Because breathing the dust and exposure can lay dormant for so many years before a person ever becomes ill, death tolls in the UK from exposure continues to rise. It is believe that people dying of exposure will increase until at least 2016.

The Cape factories employed more than 10,000 workers between the years 1913 and the time it closed in 1968. Take into account those that lived near the factories, and the number of exposures becomes very alarming.

Interestingly, what spurred the investigations into digging deeper were not the workers at the Cape factories, it was those living around the factories that were becoming ill. The Cape Company, has set up a fund by which those who are ill can file claims for compensation.


Director at Veritas Consulting. The SME's favourite go-to consultant for health and safety know-how. Bucket loads of experience. Fluent in practical advice. Solutionist with a brain you can pick.

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