Asbestos in BBC buildings ‘could have caused Dame Esther Rantzen’s lung cancer’

In January, veteran journalist and television presenter Dame Esther Rantzen was diagnosed with a type of stage four lung cancer, unrelated to smoking. And in recent comments, the Childline founder and one-time host of That’s Life! suggested that her condition could have arisen from being exposed to asbestos in old buildings where she used to work at the BBC.

Speaking to Alex Jones on The One Show, Dame Esther commented publicly on her battle against the disease, revealing that specialists had told her she would die “sometime in the next 10 years”.

The 83-year-old admitted, in a statement earlier this year, that she had found it difficult to “skulk around various hospitals wearing an unconvincing disguise” – a situation that had motivated her to go public about her diagnosis.

“Lots of asbestos” was in now-demolished BBC studios

Recent reports have suggested that there may be a link between Dame Esther’s diagnosis and the “years” she spent working in old BBC premises.

The Mirror newspaper cited a TV source as claiming that the one-time BBC studios in Lime Grove, in the Shepherd’s Bush area of West London, contained “lots of asbestos”.

The Lime Grove Studios complex was built in 1915, and was used by the BBC – originally intended only as a “temporary measure” – from 1949 all the way until the early 1990s. This period very much coincided with the time when asbestos was in widespread legal use for the construction and refurbishment of buildings around the UK.

Dame Esther said to Yours magazine: “I’m making the most of each day, usually by sitting in my garden… enjoying the fresh air, the birds, and the summer flowers.

“And occasionally wondering whether my particular brand of lung cancer was caused by all the asbestos in the BBC building I worked in for decades – or by the air pollution I walked and drove through during my many years as a Londoner.”

This isn’t the first time BBC buildings have been linked with risks of asbestos disease

Only last year, it was reported by The Observer that the BBC had paid out damages of £1.64 million in relation to the deaths of former staff who had passed away from cancer after working in buildings where asbestos was present.

The 11 ex-BBC personnel had worked across 18 of the corporation’s locations, including Broadcasting House in central London, Television Centre in West London, and Birmingham’s Pebble Mill Studios.

A BBC spokesperson stated to the newspaper at the time: “It is not possible to confirm whether the individuals were exposed to asbestos while working at BBC locations, and if so, over what period that exposure may have occurred.”

Nonetheless, stories like that one – and that of Dame Esther’s lung cancer diagnosis – serve as saddening reminders that despite asbestos having been banned in the UK in 1999, the carcinogenic substance’s legacy continues to be felt in tragic ways today.

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