David Webb

David Webb, 66, from St Ives has mesothelioma, a form of cancer caused by asbestos dust getting into the lining of the lungs. The dust causes no immediate pain but leads to the terminal cancer that develops over a period of between 15 to 60 years.

Two years ago he was given 6-12 months to live and says this is his last chance to warn others of the dangers as part of the Health and Safety Executive's campaign 'Asbestos - the hidden killer'.

The campaign is aimed at tradesmen who know that asbestos is dangerous, but don't believe they are at risk.

Latest figures show that 20 tradesmen die each week from asbestos related illness and in total, every year there are over 4,000 deaths from asbestos related diseases, which is the single biggest killer in the workplace.

David worked with asbestos throughout his life and even remembers using his hands to smear asbestos onto pipes when he worked as an apprentice plumber in the1960s.

He said: "I remember pouring blue asbestos powder from a bag into a bucket with dust being released into the air. Then I mixed it into a paste and even used my hands to smother it onto the pipes for lagging.

David was 18 at the time and took pride in his job.

"I enjoyed my work as I got to use my hands a lot. I particularly enjoyed using my hands to apply the asbestos, as it seemed more artistic to get it smooth and I was able to shape it better.

"At the time I didn't know the risks, but tradesmen now have no excuse and should take precautions such as using protective clothing, damping down and use licensed contractors to remove certain types of asbestos."

Despite the information available today, David fears the message is still not getting through to young tradesmen including joiners, electricians and plumbers.

"Their attitude is that 'it can't happen to me' but they ought to take notice as asbestos is a killer and it's killing me. They owe it to their workmates, family and more importantly themselves, to find out more."

David's wife, Diane 61 even fears she and her now grown-up children may contract the disease.

She said: "David used to wear a woollen jumper at work which could attract the asbestos dust. He'd then pick up the kids and they would be breathing it in. I would then hand-wash the jumper, as we didn't have a washing machine at the time. It's like a ticking time bomb and we might not know for years whether we have contracted mesothelioma."

David and Diane had been looking forward to their retirement and were planning renovations on their home and caravanning holidays. However David is now too ill suffering constant pain, severe weight loss and breathlessness.

"I was just coming up to retirement when I was diagnosed with the disease. I had planned to spend quality time with my wife and grandchildren.

"It's like having continual toothache or having a large sticking plaster being pulled off your back. I can only sleep in certain positions and don't feel like eating. Even playing with the grandchildren is impossible as I find it hard to bend down and sit in certain positions."

His wife added: "I would say live for today. We were planning for our retirement and now that time will never come."

Any building built or refurbished before 2000 could contain asbestos.

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Updated 2023-05-16