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Asbestos and Acre Mill

From Jean A

Tuesday, 22 August 2023

Hi, was visiting my home town of Hebden last week with a view to move back. I went to see the bench in Pecket Well for the asbestos victims. Although it's a start, I feel deeply that more should be done to remember these people and the story be told.

My own beautiful mother died of the deadly disease in 1985 age 56. It was a tragedy and I feel passionately we should not let this story of basically rich people exploiting the poor be forgotten in our town. If there is anything I can do to help. Yours sincerely, Jean.

From John Riggs

Tuesday, 22 August 2023

I'm a retired joiner who worked with the above material from time to time during the late 60's, and decreasingly through the 70's, as we began to be increasingly concerned about the safety aspect. During early 1977, I was sub contracted to Huddersfield University (Polytechnic as it was then,) on maintainence work. A new material for partitions was being trialled - a 40mm thick board consisting of a wood chip core and covered with a green/blue material about 4mm thick, each side. I was concerned that the outer covering may contain asbestos and requested further information from our foreman, before I would comply with requests to use it. I had been exposed to white asbestos in Asbestolux since 1967, so the issue was probably acedemic, but up to that point we had been constantly reassured that white asbestos posed no risk; it was the blue and brown variants that were dangerous, they said - and the sheet covering this board was a blueish green. Both of my workmates, Steve and Richard, scoffed at my concerns and happily complied.

My foreman, under pressure from his managers to get the job completed using the new board, eventually produced an official looking document which went into great detail about the risks posed by various types of asbestos fibres - and basically, white asbestos was given the all clear, due to the lengths of the fibres involved. It was passed it around the lads at break time, and all seemed reassured. Then I read it. It was basically a 'blind with science' exercise. I turned to the foot of the final page, to see who had published the document... Cape Industries.

To the unsuspecting eye, this appeared to be a document produced by a government department. In fact, it was pure propaganda, printed by the firm who was one of the largest producers of asbestos products in the world.

I attended the funeral of Richard (a lifelong non smoker) in December 2021, and was informed by Steve that the cause of death was mesothelioma. A very familiar scenario: being told that something is 'safe' (and effective?) by those with vested interests - only to end up sacrificing one's life as a price for belief.

From George Murphy

Friday, 22 September 2023

Apologies for not previously noticing these two posts. HebWeb has an extensive, if tragic, archive about Acre Mill, developed by the editor and by Fay Robinson. I was also privileged to interview John Pickering recently regarding his superb work on behalf of sufferers from asbestos related diseases (in which he was ably assisted by Fay).

I believe that the plaque was in response to a letter to these pages from the daughter of a woman who contracted a form of asbestosis after she spent years cleaning her husband's overalls when he came home from the mill.

I would also like to see a more prominent monument to the workers and families affected by what John Pickering reckoned was the greatest disaster in Britain's industrial history, although some residents of Old Town have felt that a monument might permanently blight the town. Perhaps something as simple as a stone bench on Old Town green, or in Hebden (the workers weren't all from the village) might be suitable. I also think there should be a display and a collection of books related to the disaster in local libraries.

As you will know, the battle to eradicate asbestos is being fought even now, not least in our valley. Best wishes.