INVESTIGATION: Four workers were killed by the same aggressive brain cancer after leaving Staveley Chemcials, and now their widows want answers.
Last year a fourth ex-worker from Staveley Chemicals died from brain cancer. Their widows have long suspected it was the job that killed the but now they’re certain – and they want to prove it.
Jacqui Collis lost her husband in 2014. A loyal worker for decades, Martyn passed away at 65 and after retiring in 2000 there were no signs at all that a career in chemical manufacture would be his end.
So it was such a shock when he developed glioma – an incredibly aggressive tumour which attacks the brain - and which killed him in May 2014.
Jacqui, who now lives in Inkersall, said: “He had a stroke in 2010 which left him limited and then he started having these speech problems and he couldn’t get his legs out. They told him at the hospital it was a brain tumour. it was such a shock. You go in hoping it’s not a stroke and leave wishing it were.”
Martyn was a father of three and grandfather to eight, who worked as an electrician at Staveley Chemicals since 1978.
“Life revolved around the works,” says Jacqui. “It gave a lot of people work and my husband was like all of them – they were glad to have a job, and they all enjoyed working there.
“There was good camaraderie among the men and we never thought it would be dangerous.
Martyn is only one of a bunch of old colleague that has passed away over the last few years from the same aggressive form of cancer.
“When Martyn’s boss John Longden died in 1999 we had no idea. But then another friend, John Wynn, died in 2008 and people started saying it was something to do with Staveley.”
Now, within the space of a year, both Martyn and his friend and colleague Neville Musson have both passed away from glioma, and the families are worried there may be more out there who have met the same fate, or who could be in danger.
Neville died in July aged 69 and his wife Audrey is still in shock after he passed away within a month of being diagnosed.
Even more so because he worked at the site from 1980 to 1996 and didn’t developed symptoms until 20 years later.
Audrey, 69, a former postmistress of Newbold Road says: “He loved the job and he was so upset when he was made redundant. He was a joker, he liked a bit of fun, and he was very active with Holy Trinity church. He and Martyn were best friends at work.
“We were driving to Gretna Green in the motorhome when it happened. He was pulling to the left with the wheel and I didn’t think anything of it. When we arrived he got out of the cab and his legs wouldn’t move. We went to the doctor and found out he’d had a slight stroke, and eventually when we got to hospital and they told me.”
Neville’s tumour was too far progressed to operate on, so Audrey was told he only had weeks, if not days, to live.
She adds: “It was a very traumatic time, we couldn’t get him into hospital to begin with. I didn’t understand what was happening. Every day was another shock, to see someone so poorly.”
So Audrey hopes a new investigation into any links between the deaths and the chemical plant may give them, and potentially others, some answers.
“They all died of these brain tumours, so alarm bells started ringing. The researchers now are trying to find a link with the chemicals,” says Audrey. “It’s so upsetting, but we’ll see what comes out of this.”
“If there’s anybody else out there who’s husbands had brain tumours, we’d like anybody to come forward.
“It will help our research and we might be able to give you some answers.”
Wives’ cancer fears prompted investigation
The investigation by the Trade Union Safety Team (TRUST) was prompted as four wives of former workers noticed a potential link as they each died from rare cancer Glioma within a few years of each other.
John Knight of the TUC department said: “These four widow came into the office and each of them produced a death certificate with the same cause of death. Each were electricians at Staveley Chemicals, and each had an aggressive brain cancer called Glioma.
“Having done some initial research we have found that in the normal population, 8 in every 100,000 people would be expected to die from this rare condition, here we have at least four in a localised vicinity. This together with the fact that the men died within a few years of each other makes it very unusual.
“As part of our in-depth research we will also look into possible causes of this rare brain cancer, including any exposure to hazardous substances such as known carcinogens like benzene and mercury.”
So TRUST’s investigation will map the facility between Staveley and Barrow Hill and assess which chemicals employees came into contact with to compare against different illnesses. But the challenge may be that as electricians, the four men worked across the site.
Mr Knight added: “They wouldn’t be confined to one department, they would be all over the works doing repairs. So, it’s rather unusual, we don’t know what chemical it was, but mercury is a known carcinogen. We’re anxious to have a look at the range of incidents to see if there is anything connected.”
Joanne Gordon who will be leading the investigation added: “We will do our level best to get to the bottom of what is a very concerning case.” If you consider someone in your family has been similarly affected can contact Joanne in complete confidence on 01246 380415.
French owners of the now dormant plant, Rhodia, said: “(We are) always saddened to learn of the deaths of former employees and our sympathies are extended to their families. The company is not aware of any claims in respect of brain tumours suffered by former employees, nor of any complaints or enquiries from families regarding this matter. The health and safety of employees is of paramount importance to the company and we take seriously any suggestion that ill health or deaths might have related to company operations. We would welcome the opportunity to speak with family representatives to further understand the circumstances surrounding their enquiry and concerns.”