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Cancer fear drove man to strangle sick wife
By Alan Weston, Daily Post Staff
Feb 22 2005 - A MERSEYSIDE man hanged himself after the apparent mercy killing of his wife, an inquest heard. John Lewis, 56, and his wife Enid, 57, were found dead at their Cumbrian home last August.
Mr Lewis was found hanged and his wife was discovered strangled in the next room when an estate agent came to bring prospective buyers around the house in Grange-over-Sands.
Mr Lewis was born and raised in Kirkdale, Liverpool, and was a well-known member of the congregation at St Alphonsus church. His wife was originally from the Culcheth area of Warrington.
The inquest, held at Barrow-in-Furness town hall yesterday, was told that Mr Lewis killed his wife, who had multiple sclerosis, after he was diagnosed with cancer.
The couple had been married for more than 20 years and when Mrs Lewis was diagnosed with MS, her husband quit his job as a welder to take care of her.
The couple had moved to Cumbria as he felt it would be a more relaxed location to take care of his sick wife.
Several months before their deaths, Mr Lewis learned he was suffering from mesothelioma, also known as asbestos cancer, a legacy from his days as a welder at a number of power stations around the country.
In the weeks before the couple's deaths, Mr Lewis had to stay in hospital and his wife went into temporary care in a nursing home.
The inquest was told that after Mr Lewis was diagnosed with cancer, he feared he would not be able to look after his wife.
The coroner for South Cumbria, Ian Smith, returned a verdict of unlawful killing on Mrs Lewis, and suicide on Mr Lewis.
Mr Lewis has three brothers and three sisters living in Merseyside - Joe Lewis,, 66, from Netherton, Teresa White, 70, from Childwall, Margaret O'Connor, 53, from Broadgreen, Maureen Smith, 68, from Formby, Peter Lewis, 64, from Greasby and George Lewis, 60, from Netherton.
Margaret O'Connor, who attended yesterday's inquest along with several other members of the family, said afterwards: "The coroner was unable to say whether it was a suicide pact as no-one could know if they had decided it between themselves.
"It was done out of kindness and he said he had a great deal of respect for John and had every sympathy with us as the family.
"The verdict of unlawful killing did not necessarily reflect his opinion, but by law he could not give any other verdict.
"John would have only had a few days to live anyway, had he not taken his own life. His main concern, rather than his own health, was that of his wife.
"He was her rock and he had been looking after her 24 hours a day for 18 years, without any support. Had he not contracted mesothelioma he would still be looking after her.
"They were devoted to each other - it was unconditional love."
EPA Drops Plan for Asbestos Panel
August 14, 2005 - The United States Environmental Protection Agency has dropped its plan to assemble a panel of experts to determine the effects of naturally occurring asbestos, or NOA, in California. Elevated asbestos levels have been recently detected around deposits and are thought to be a danger to nearby residents.
Instead, the EPA has decided to undertake a project to determine the effects of long term exposure to naturally occurring asbestos and its' risk on the general population. This decision came after EPA administrator Steve Johnson questioned the effectiveness of an investigation limited to only one of the known locations of naturally occurring asbestos.
Japan's quiet time bomb
Health problems linked to asbestos, which was used in large quantities as heat-insulation material for buildings during the period of Japan's high economic growth, are spreading among workers who inhaled the substance in the past. One enterprise after another has released lists of workers who have died of, or are now receiving treatment for, asbestos-linked diseases, gripping many in the nation with fear. Among the dead are the wife of a worker who handled asbestos on the job and people who lived near an asbestos-related factory.
The fear is exacerbated by the fact that the incubation period of asbestos-caused diseases is 20 to 40 years. It is so long that inhalation of asbestos is ominously said to trigger a "quiet time bomb." Nearly 400 people at some 30 businesses are reported to have died of diseases linked to asbestos inhalation, such as lung cancer and mesothelioma, which is a cancerous tumor in the pleura or the peritoneum. The central and local governments and enterprises must do their utmost to understand the scope of the situation and work out necessary measures.
Asbestos, a mineral that exists in the form of threadlike fibers, neither burns nor conducts heat or electricity, and is resistant to acids and alkalis. Because of these characteristics, a large amount of asbestos was used in Japan for fireproofing, heat insulation and friction resistance. Used in metal-mesh grills for broiling fish, toasters, vehicular brakes and city water pipes, or mixed with cement or sprayed onto walls and ceilings, asbestos has existed near ordinary citizens.
In 1974, Japan imported 350,000 tons of asbestos -- a peak amount. Until 1990, the annual imported amount stood at about 300,000 tons. It began declining at a fast pace thereafter, to 43,000 tons in 2002 and to 8,000 tons in 2004. This year's imported amount is expected to be just several dozen tons.
It was only in 1995 that the Health, Welfare and Labor Ministry banned the production and use of highly poisonous brown and blue asbestos. In October 2004, the ministry banned the use of white asbestos, whose carcinogenic nature is said to be weak. The use of asbestos is still allowed in products for which suitable substitutes have not been found, such as gaskets, insulation boards for switchboards, sealing material for chemical plants, and some industrial cords and cloths. Last week the ministry decided to impose a total ban by 2008.
Hiroshi Okuda, chairman of the Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren), seemed to express a popular sentiment when he said, "Having seen (the symptoms) appearing as many as 20 years later, I have a feeling that Japanese authorities were slow in calling people's attention (to the danger)."
The diameter of a single thread of asbestos is about one-thousandth of one millimeter. It may stick in a lung cell and stay there for a long time. By continuously causing irritation, it can lead to diseases such as lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis, which is fibrosis of the lung leading to lower respiratory function. By fiscal 2003, 663 people had been designated as labor-accident cases in which asbestos was believed to have caused lung cancer or mesothelioma. The victims were from various occupations -- construction, manufacturing, welding, plumbing, shipbuilding, etc.
A sharp increase in the number of such designations in and after the late 1990s testifies to the long incubation time of asbestos-linked diseases before they manifest themselves. The fear is especially strong among workers who handled asbestos, their family members, people living near asbestos-related factories and construction workers.
The central and local governments, as well as enterprises, are carrying out health checks. Additional measures should be taken to deal with workers who moved from place to place and had difficulty in understanding the relationship between asbestos and their diseases. The government advises that anyone with health fears related to asbestos visit health centers (hokenjo) in their neighborhood for consultations.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has collected relevant information from 65 enterprises handling asbestos, while the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry has gathered similar data from major shipbuilding firms and their subcontractors, which number more than 1,000. It is hoped that the government will take the necessary next steps as soon as possible on the basis of the information.
Apart from the incidents of asbestos inhalation in the past, demolition of old buildings from now on may pose another danger. Firms engaged in such demolition are supposed to cover old buildings and splash water on them. But there is no assurance that they will follow this procedure. Watchful citizens who report any neglect in this regard will do a great service to society.