COUNCILS in the Lothians have forked out more than £700,000 in the past seven years to victims of asbestos.
Compensation has been paid to council workers and their families from Edinburgh, Midlothian and West Lothian following exposure to the deadly powder.
Edinburgh paid out £325,000 in one single claim last year – believed to be the largest asbestos compensation payment the local authority has ever made.
Asbestos is a fibrous building material that can prove lethal when disturbed, releasing tiny crystals which cause killer illnesses, including chronic lung disease and some deadly forms of lung cancer, if they are inhaled.
It was regularly used in buildings from the 1950s until the late-1990s when it was banned.
With the number of people diagnosed with mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer, in NHS Lothian more than doubling in the past 20 years, experts warn the number of claims will continue to rise.
New figures, released under Freedom of Information, show that the city council has paid out £356,800 in the past five years to victims of asbestos. Midlothian Council has paid out £152,700 since 2008 and West Lothian Council paid out £196,817 in a settlement to an ex-council worker who developed asbestos-related lung disease.
In 2004, Edinburgh spent millions of pounds to remove asbestos from council buildings, including schools and public buildings.
Five years later, in 2009, the council was fined £14,000 after exposing ten of its employees to asbestos dust at Castlebrae Community High School.
Work on the new Royal Commonwealth Pool was delayed in 2012 after the discovery of the deadly substance.
Professor John Cherrie, from the Institute of Occupational Medicine and professor of human health at Heriot-Watt University, said asbestos-related cancer was “essentially incurable”.
He said: “There has been an increase in claims because it takes a long time from when you are exposed to when you show symptoms, it can take 40 years-plus.
“Someone who worked as an apprentice in their 20s may not have symptoms till they are in their 60s.
“Unfortunately, all cancers in the lung are essentially incurable and very few people survive for five years. With mesothelioma, many people die within a year of being diagnosed.
“It is estimated there are around 2500 cases of mesothelioma in the UK each year and this is projected to increase and then peak around 2020.
“In the worst case – of someone exposed to atrocious working conditions – we can predict they have around a one-in-ten chance of developing asbestos-related disease.”
A city council spokeswoman said: “The city council has provided compensation to a small number of individuals in recent years in relation to historical exposure to asbestos.
“We are unable to comment further on any individual cases.”