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Darrel Whitaker PhD.MRCPath.Consultant Cytologist - In response to the Halifax Courier report on Acre Mill

Darrel Whitaker PhD.MRCPath.Consultant Cytologist. The Western Australian Centre for Pathology and Medical Research. (Mytholmroyd born & bred).

Re Jon Robinson's report on Acre Mill - Halifax Evening Courier 31st October Britain's biggest industrial disaster

"Mesothelioma in Calderdale".

In view of Mytholmroyd's Website recent article (Newsdate 1.11.2003 by Jon Robinson), about Acre Mill and it's legacy of Asbestos Disease your readers may be interested to know that a detailed medical/scientific study of mesothelioma in Calderdale was undertaken some thirteen years ago.

The findings of the study were initially reported in 1990 as part of a Churchill Fellowship and subsequently in the medical literature under the title "Mesothelioma in the Community in the North of England" in the journal "Occupational and Environmental Medicine" (Vol.53 1996).

The study was only possible because of the keen interest and support of Dr Alan Edwards Consultant Pathologist at the Halifax Area Hospitals. Further assistance being provided by Dr Malcolm MrCoubrie and Marion Ormerod of Hebden Bridge Medical Practice, Mr J.A. Turnbull - H.M.Coroner, Dr Betteridge - Calderdale Archivist, former Cape Asbestos personell including Mr Keneth Greenwood, Mr Alex Cross, Dr Kevin Browne and many former employees of Cape (including my wife Margaret).

Findings.

In summary the study indentified 71 cases of mesothelioma in Calderdale up to February 1996, 44 of these had their exposure to asbestos at Acre Mill, 12 had exposure elsewhere and in 17 cases no definite exposure to asbestos could be established.

Report - Extracts.

Acre Mill and its operation. "High above Hebden Bridge on the hillside beneath the Pennine moorlands lies the small village of Old Town. it was here, at Acre Mill that asbestos was prosessed from 1939 to 1970. Like many Pennine factories Acre Mill was originally a 19th century cotton mill. At the outbreak of the second World War the then empty mill was commandeered by the Home Office and under the direction of the Chief Inspector of Armaments produced gas mask filter pads. The significant constituant of these filters was blue asbestos.

In January of 1940 the then Cape Asbestos Company took over the management of Acre Mill factory, gradually increasing the product range and diversified the manufacturing process. Acre Mill used all forms of commercial asbestos. Chrysotile or white asbestos of Canadian or Rhodesion origin was used over the period 1942 to 1970; South African Amosite (brown) from 1949 to 1970 and Crocidolite (blue) in the 1940's and then again from 1952 to 1970.

Identification of cases.

Information about mesothelioma cases was gleaned from many sources including, Cape Asbestos Medical Officer, Patient records, Calderdale death certificates and including archival material and the pathology files of the Halifax Area Hospitals. Only cases having a post mortem and histopathology were accepted in this study".

Latency.

Within the Acre Mill group the period between first exposure and death ranged from 12 - 43 years. On two occasions the latency period was less than 15 years. The latent period between first exposure to asbestos and the development of mesothelioma is generally regarded as between 35 and 40 years. Even allowing for addional cases of mesethelioma developing in former Acre Mill employees, the average latency reported here of 29 years is short. Further, the identification of a well documented case of only 12 years latency is significant as previously 14 years was considered to be the shortest recorded latency after industrial exposure to crocidolite asbestos.

Crocidolite asbestos has proved to be very carcinogenic and in the major causative agent in the development of mesothelioma. One of the important characteristics of asbestos use at Acre Mill was the continued use of crocidolite throughout most of the period of its operation. This feature has a strong bearing on the final total of mesotheliomas that result from the Acre Mill operation.

Reservations

While a rigorous effort has been undertaken to identify all cases of mesothelioma resulting from Acre Mill, we acknowledge that some may have escaped our search.

(Earlier this year Dr. Whitaker was the International Guest Speaker at the British Society for Clinical Cytology meeting held in Belfast where the major theme was "Mesothelioma".)

E-mail: Darrel Whittaker
Darrel Whitaker PhD.MRCPath. Perth Western Australia
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