Tuesday, 23 Apr 2024

Tech’s family ask if she was killed by asbestos from school equipment

Science lab technician’s family launch legal action to find out if she was killed at 79 by asbestos from school Bunsen burners

  • Elizabeth Griggs, 79, died six months after getting diagnosed with mesothelioma
  • Cancer is linked to asbestos exposure and her family have launched legal action 
  • She worked at Wells Cathedral School as a lab technician from 1969 and 2001
  • While there, she worked with Bunsen burners and mats that contained asbestos 
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Elizabeth Griggs, 79, died six months after she was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a form of cancer linked to asbestos exposure

The family of a former private school science lab technician who died of a cancer linked to asbestos have launched legal action to establish whether the Bunsen burners and equipment she worked with caused her death.  

Great-grandmother Elizabeth Griggs, 79, died six months after she was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a form of cancer linked to asbestos exposure.

Shortly before her death she recalled how her job at Wells Cathedral School in Somerset involved setting up and packing away Bunsen burners containing solid asbestos.

She worked there between 1969 and 2001 and said she also provided pupils with asbestos mats designed to prevent heat damage to surfaces.

Known as Ann Curtis during her time at the school, she had instructed lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate whether her exposure to asbestos took place through her work.

The legal firm is now appealing for former staff and pupils at Wells Cathedral School to come forward with information regarding the use of asbestos based equipment there. 

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During a holiday to Cyprus in October 2016, the mother-of-four was stricken with a nasty cough and pain when sneezing.

On her return she visited her GP and, following a number of tests, she was diagnosed with mesothelioma in April 2017. 

She died that November.

The great-grandmother told her legal team at Irwin Mitchell how the school announced plans to remove all asbestos from its site during the course of her employment, with the Bunsen burners and asbestos mats being replaced.


Elizabeth (second left) worked at Wells Cathedral school between 1969 and 2001 and recalled how she used to handle Bunsen burners and mats with asbestos

Her daughter, Debbie Harvey, 55, said: ‘Prior to her diagnosis Mum was fit and healthy.

‘She was really active and enjoyed gardening, beekeeping and had won prizes for her honey.

‘She really enjoyed going on holiday and did all the holiday planning as well as dealing in stocks and shares.

‘She would be always telling us what to invest in and took care of all the household bills.

‘We were stunned when we were told that she had cancer. It was very difficult to see the speed of her deterioration because of the mesothelioma.




Her family have now launched legal action to establish whether the Bunsen burners and equipment she worked with caused her death

‘She was definitely not the frail lady she became in the final weeks of her life.’

What is mesothelioma and how common is it?

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that develops in the lining that covers the outer surface of some of the body’s organs. It’s usually linked to asbestos exposure.

It mainly affects the lining of the lungs (pleural mesothelioma), although it can also affect the lining of the tummy (peritoneal mesothelioma), heart or testicles.

More than 2,600 people are diagnosed with the condition each year in the UK. Most cases are diagnosed in people aged 60-80 and men are affected more commonly than women.

Unfortunately it’s rarely possible to cure mesothelioma, although treatment can help control the symptoms.

The symptoms of mesothelioma tend to develop gradually over time. They typically don’t appear until several decades after exposure to asbestos.

Mesothelioma is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos, a group of minerals made of microscopic fibres that used to be widely used in construction.

These tiny fibres can easily get in the lungs, where they get stuck, damaging the lungs over time. It usually takes a while for this to cause any obvious problems, with mesothelioma typically developing more than 20 years after exposure to asbestos.

The use of asbestos was completely banned in 1999, so the risk of exposure is much lower nowadays. However, materials containing asbestos are still found in many older buildings.

Source: NHS Choices 

The former lab technician’s husband Gerald, 91, added: ‘I am still devastated by Ann’s death and miss her every day. She was the kindest and most loving wife and mum anyone could wish for.

‘Ann died before she was able to achieve justice. We now want to honour her memory by doing this for her and would be grateful to anyone who might be able to provide more information.’

Anyone with information which could assist this case is asked to contact Laura Wilkinson at Irwin Mitchell’s Bristol office.

Ann also leaves behind two other daughters Alison House and Melanie Hicken, aged 60 and 53, and son, Tim, aged 58.

She also had 10 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and two sisters.

Laura Wilkinson of Irwin Mitchell said: ‘While many cases tend to relate to industrial environments, we are involved in a growing number linked to asbestos exposure in other settings such as hospitals, council buildings and schools.

‘Through our investigations we understand that Ann worked with products containing asbestos during her time as a school lab technician, but we would now be keen for more information regarding further detail about her exposure to asbestos dust.

‘This appeal comes at a time when the issue of school science equipment containing asbestos has been in the spotlight, with the Health and Safety Executive confirming last year that two companies had sold gauze mats which included the material for a number of years.

‘We would be hugely grateful if anyone who may have worked alongside Ann or may have been a pupil at Wells Cathedral School could come forward and provide information regarding the use of asbestos based equipment within the labs.’

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