Former MP’s cancer death must lead to asbestos action, son says

Alice Mahon died from asbestos linked cancer last December, aged 85.

Alice Mahon. (PA)
Alice Mahon died from asbestos-linked cancer last December, aged 85. (PA)

A former MP’s son has called for more action on removing asbestos from buildings following his mum's death last year from cancer linked to the hazardous material.

Alice Mahon, who represented Halifax in West Yorkshire for 18 years, died from malignant mesothelioma last December aged 85.

The former Labour MP had campaigned for asbestos victims and backed demands for a public inquiry into diseases related to the substance that mainly affected former power industry workers.

Her son Kris is now calling for the government to remove the material from all buildings, which can cause cancer when inhaled.

Read more: Parliament 'so crumbling and asbestos-riddled it's at risk of being destroyed'

Former MP Alice Mahon’s son has called for more action on the removal of asbestos. (Getty)
Former MP Alice Mahon’s son has called for more action on the removal of asbestos. (Getty)

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibre which was used on a large scale until the late1990s - mainly in construction.

Kris, a law professor in New Zealand, told the BBC: "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.

"Asbestos is in many settings, often mingled with other products, and the argument is often put forward that it is best left in place because it is only a risk if it is disturbed.

"But the problem is that buildings deteriorate and need refurbishment, or are knocked down and replaced, and this will lead to asbestos being released in uncontrolled circumstances. The safest thing to do is remove the risk."

Mahon claimed she was exposed to asbestos when working as a nurse in West Yorkshire in the 1960s and 1970s.

She added she may have been further exposed to the material in her time as an MP in Parliament.

Read more: MPs accused of treating staff safety concerns as an 'afterthought'

The UK and Australia have the highest occurrence of asbestos-related mesothelioma cancer.

NHS trusts in former industrial areas had the highest rates of mesothelioma from 2014 to 2019, according to statistics from the Royal College of Physicians.

The Commons Work and Pensions Committee said last year while the “extreme exposures” of the late 20th century may be a thing of the past, asbestos remained the biggest cause of work-related deaths in the UK, with more than 5,000 fatalities recorded in 2019.

The committee has called for a 40-year deadline for the removal of asbestos from non-domestic buildings.

It warned that the problem would likely worsen as the retrofitting of buildings to meet net zero requirements meant more asbestos-containing materials would be disturbed in the coming decades.

The Palace of Westminster is the meeting place of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the two houses of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, known as the Houses of Parliament.
The parliamentary maintenance services team found asbestos in 680 parliamentary estate rooms. (Getty)

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that despite being banned for more than 20 years, asbestos may still exist in 300,000 non-domestic buildings and many more homes.

The parliamentary maintenance services team found asbestos in 680 parliamentary estate rooms in a survey carried out from 2019 to 2022.

Last month, the Public Accounts Committee said up to £2 million a week was being spent patching up the Palace of Westminster but there was still a growing list of health and safety incidents, including some involving the material.

In 2018 MPs voted to move out of the Palace by the mid-2020s so it could be repaired but the project has since stalled.

A Parliament spokesperson said: “As with many historical buildings, asbestos is present – and appropriately managed.

“The risk to anyone on the estate is very low.”