ASBESTOS-RELATED cancer has claimed the lives of more than 500 people across the county over the last four decades, new data has revealed.

MPs have now launched an inquiry into how the material is being managed across the UK after serious concerns were raised.

Asbestos exposure can lead to mesothelioma, a type of cancer that affects the lining of some organs, including the lungs.

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Data from the Health and Safety Executive [HSE] shows that the particular type of cancer was responsible for 521 deaths in Oxfordshire between 1981 and 2019.

Between 2015 and 2019, 119 of those deaths occurred – the highest number in any five-year period since records began.

The Work and Pensions Committee, which launched the inquiry, said that despite the importation, supply and use of asbestos being banned in the UK since 1999, it remains the largest single cause of work-related fatalities.

More than 5,000 deaths every year are caused by diseases linked to asbestos exposure – including lung cancer and asbestosis, a rare-long term lung illness.

Across Great Britain, 12,500 people died of mesothelioma in Great Britain in 2015-19 – the highest number for any previous five-year period.

The inquiry will examine the risks posed by asbestos in the workplace, the actions taken by the HSE to mitigate them, and how its approach compares to those taken in other countries.

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Though traditionally, higher levels of asbestos-related illness were associated with work in industrial sites such as shipyards, in recent years that also expanded to other industries, including construction.

But campaigners say people using buildings where asbestos is poorly maintained, including some schools and hospitals, are also at risk of contracting the deadly disease.

Liz Darlison, CEO of charity Mesothelioma UK, said: "Our country is riddled with the stuff and we have to address this if we want to protect future generations.

"We need a long-term, government-led initiative to remove asbestos.”

The HSE said targeting asbestos risk remains a priority.

A spokesman said: "Sadly, the damage from exposure to asbestos takes many decades to show itself as there is often a latency of up to 40 years before the disease is detectable.

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"This means that cases now, and in the recent past, normally result from exposures which predate the time during the 1980s when the regulations and work practices were significantly tightened.

"Asbestos is, however, still present in older buildings given its previous uses and it must be managed appropriately."

The HSE is expecting the incidence of mesothelioma to decline in the coming years.

The spokesman added that it will be working with MPs throughout the inquiry.