MPs call on asbestos manufacturer to donate £10 million towards mesothelioma research

MPs and peers have written to one of the biggest producers of asbestos, Cape, urging it to pay £10 million to help fund research into mesothelioma, a type of cancer strongly associated with asbestos exposure.

The all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on occupational safety and health wrote to Altrad, Cape’s parent company, saying that documents released following a lengthy court battle showed that the firm historically “provided misleading reassurance about the dangers of asbestos”.

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The group’s members further stated that the documents showed Cape’s selective sharing of sampling data in relation to the lethal substance, as well as its lobbying for watered-down product warnings and higher allowed dust limits, had “compromised the Government’s regulatory response to asbestos”.

Cape accused of “knowingly putting more people in danger”

The asbestos manufacturer had fought to prevent the documents from being released, with the matter reaching the Supreme Court. Since the documents were made available, the Asbestos Victims Support Groups (AVSG) Forum UK has been campaigning for the firm to donate £10 million in support of research into mesothelioma.

The APPG letter to Ran Oren, chief executive at Altrad, encouraged him to satisfy this request. The MPs and peers drew attention to the fact that in 1969, Cape’s group medical had advised that “short and possibly small” contact with asbestos could be enough to cause the deadly cancer, and that “no type of asbestos proved innocent”.

As APPG chair Ian Lavery and other members of the group stated in the letter: “Knowing the links between the products made by your company, the role of Cape in knowingly putting more people in danger, and the devastating consequences, we appeal to your company to make this donation. Mesothelioma is always terminal, and Britain has the highest rates of anywhere in the world.”

The letter continued: “Your company has played a major role in exposing people to the toxic substance, meanwhile profiting at their expense. Your contribution to medical research may go some way to recompense victims of asbestos disease.”

The APPG also referred in the letter to recently published documents indicating that Cape Intermediate Holdings Limited had net assets of £151.5 million in 2021, with Altrad enjoying €169 million (£148 million) in net profits. This, the letter said, was a sign that the companies “have substantial resources to pay the £10 million”.

Company points to victim compensation fund amid “unfortunate legacy” of asbestos

The Guardian quoted a Cape spokesperson as saying that the firm “understands the unfortunate legacy which asbestos has on people’s health.” They added that the company would be “reaching out to the AVSG to establish how it and other stakeholders can support victims of asbestos-related illness beyond the support already provided through its victim compensation fund – the scheme of arrangement.”

The spokesperson said that under this scheme, the firm had already paid more than £48 million to individuals and families affected by its past activities.

They went on to say: “It is important to highlight that the materials referred to extend to certain extracts from thousands of documents dating around 60-70 years ago.

“The current management have not reviewed these documents and cannot comment on the accuracy of the allegations either individually or within the context of facts and circumstances from the 1950s and early 1960s.”

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