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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 October 2006, 07:34 GMT 08:34 UK
Centre opens for asbestos advice
Brian Lee
Brian Lee said thousands of people could be ill
The first drop-in centre for asbestos victims has opened in east Belfast.

There are about 3,000 people suffering from asbestos related illnesses in Northern Ireland and the Bloomfield Avenue centre will offer them advice.

Brian Lee from the group Justice for Asbestos Victims said there are probably another 6,000 who do not even know they are affected.

"There's probably 3,000 that we know of, but there is probably another 6,000 that don't know themselves," he said.

"They will manifest as time passes because it takes up to 40 years for it to manifest. In my case, for instance, I got mine in the late 50s early 60s and now I'm 70 so this is the sort of time it takes to manifest itself."

Mr Lee, from Dundonald, is a former shipyard worker and believes it was there he was exposed to asbestos.

He said that he has pleural plaques - a scarring of the lining of the lung caused by asbestos exposure - and that it was purely by accident that he was diagnosed after getting an X-ray following by-pass surgery.

Up until about 1970, asbestos was a widely used insulation material in a number of industries, but particularly in shipbuilding.

Asbestos leaflets
The group hopes to offer advice to victims

Mr Lee said shipyard workers were unaware of the dangers it posed.

"One type was like snow and we used to pack it together like snowballs and throw it at each other, not realising the danger we were putting ourselves in," he said.

"Certainly companies didn't make ourselves aware of it and this is why today they have to pay out compensation."

Mr Lee said they hoped the support group would be able to help fellow victims.

He said there could be people on the periphery of the industry who were also affected by asbestos exposure.

"I take it back to when the husband would bring his overalls home for washing to the good lady and the first thing she would do is take them out, to the yard in those days, and give them a good shake and that would cause a cloud of asbestos spores and dust," he said.

"Children would maybe be in about the home as well, and if there was a cupboard where the wee child kept her pram, the husband's overalls were hanging in there, and they would be brushing past this and getting exposure."

Tara Mills reports on the opening

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