Famous Professor Killed by Asbestos
A retired Oxford University (England) professor who was well known in his field has died at age 93 of mesothelioma, a disease that an inquest panel believes he may have developed when he served as “Keeper of the Books” at the university’s expansive library.
Dennis Shaw, who was a science professor, told his family in his last days that he had worked in various places at the famed school where he could have been exposed to asbestos.
The most likely place, however, was the college’s Bodleian Library, which was doing major refurbishment work during his employment.
Shaw explained in a personal statement to his family that he was present as contractors were doing lots of underground work and other renovations at the library, which is home to more than 12 million books and other items, making it the second-largest library in Great Britain.
Most of the work took place during the 1970s, when the use of products containing asbestos was still commonplace. Shaw believes he breathed in asbestos fibers during that long and expansive restoration project.
Shaw, who was highly-lauded as “Keeper of the Scientific Books” from 1976 to 1991, noted that he also spent extensive time in the library during the years before and after he held that position.
It was during the early 1970s that Shaw says he spent about an hour-and-a-half each day, for a lengthy period of time, supervising the construction project being carried out at the library.
He believed that this work contributed to his illness, which was diagnosed in 2016.
Assistant coroner for Oxford Rosamund Rhodes-Kemp wrote: “Dr Shaw sadly died on July 20 this year of mesothelioma, which possibly had work-related causes. He died suddenly in the night.”
“Mesothelioma is a disease that comes about due to someone’s exposure to asbestos. He was not aware of any exposure, but it is difficult to know when you’re clearing large amounts of dust during any building project. I would suggest the conclusion here is one of industrial disease.”
Though Dr. Shaw lived a long and mostly healthy life, his death from mesothelioma should serve as a warning to others who might have been exposed to asbestos fibers in the least likely places, including at a university or other academic institution.
The situation is no different in the United States. Many old universities and colleges include buildings that are ripe with asbestos materials, and care should always be taken to avoid renovation or demolition projects that could cause toxic dust to circulate through the air, making inhalation possible.