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Page last updated at 08:22 GMT, Friday, 31 October 2008
Asbestos warning for young builders

By Dave Howard
Newsbeat politics reporter

Builder in front of asbestos warning sign

Young people in the building trade are risking an early death because they don't understand the dangers of asbestos, the government is warning.

Asbestos deaths are rising among people like carpenters and plumbers but Newsbeat's heard from plenty of younger tradesmen who think it's a thing of the past.

In fact, asbestos is still in at least half a million British buildings, so the risk of drilling or cutting into it is still there.

It's thought asbestos-related diseases kill 4,000 people a year, most of them tradesmen.

Mike, a plumber in his 30s from east London, is typical of younger builders.

Russell King

It's amazing how much we come across it. Particularly in lofts we find quite a bit of it

Carpenter Russell King says he still finds a lot of asbestos

He said: "It affects the older generation and not so much our age. Asbestos is banned."

Twenty-year-old James, a lagger from Derbyshire, said: "People above you, bosses, always say it's not harmful anymore. So it's always put to the back of your brain."

But Russell and Tom King are two people who think differently.

They are a father and son and they're both carpenters.

Today, Russell is hard at work, building a staircase.

He says he likes his job. "I like the social aspect of it. I like mixing with the lads. And it's nice to not be stuck in an office," he said.

Up until a couple of years ago Russell used to work regularly with his dad Tom.

Tom has been a carpenter since he left school at 15.

Now though, Tom's stuck at home, too ill to work or even play.

He said: "I used to like to romp around on the floor with the grandchildren. I can't do that any more.

"I get out of breath too easily, especially bending over."

No cure

Tom King has a type of cancer called mesothelioma.

You get it from breathing in asbestos particles and by the time it's diagnosed it's almost always fatal.

Tom had to have one of his lungs removed. He had to have cancerous material cut out of his heart and his diaphragm, and he's also found that a new hole's developed in the wall of the one lung that he has left.

He told Newsbeat: "The reason I'm in this situation is I used asbestos when I was a teenager and in my early 20s.

"It was only for a short time. Probably only five or six times in me whole life probably."

Tom King
There is no cure for this. Two and a half years ago they gave me 18 months to live
Tom King, 65, has cancer after working with asbestos for years
You might think that's no surprise. Tom's an older man, so he worked with asbestos before it was banned.

But his son Russell says he still sees asbestos everywhere in his work.

He said: "It's amazing how much we come across it. Particularly in lofts we find quite a bit of it.

"Behind fireplaces, cavity wall insulation. It's everywhere really."

He added: "I don't think people are aware of how dangerous it is. I see people people up on a ladder drilling through asbestos. I think, 'What are you doing up there doing that?'"

The message from government health experts is clear. Know what you're dealing with and don't put yourself at risk.

Tom said, as he struggled to breathe: "There is no cure for this. Two and a half years ago they gave me 18 months to live.

"If you're young, you can end up like me when you're 65 years old, without even knowing it."

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