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Pleural plaques

Pleural plaques are a form of collagen fibre scar that are found on the diaphragm and/or ribcage. These develop when someone has been exposed to asbestos for a prolonged period of time.

It is only in extremely rare circumstances that pleural plaque will form in a person due to a reason other than asbestos exposure. This is because asbestos fibres are so small that they are able to pass through the lungs’ filtration system, embedding in human tissue. This can cause inflammation and scarring.

The illness often will not manifest itself until at least 20 years after the date of exposure. Before regulations concerning the restriction of asbestos came into force in the 1970s, employers had no legal obligation to ensure the safety of their workers in relation to asbestos exposure. Those that are currently experiencing illness because of exposure to asbestos during this time are likely to be the last wave of workers who are suffering due to the lack of regulation in that decade.

It seems that the more exposure a person has had to asbestos in their lifetime, the more likely they will form pleural plaques in their torso. It is important to recognise however, that the formation of pleural plaque does not necessarily mean the person will also suffer from other asbestos-related illness. There is no direct link between the existence of pleural plaque and the development of illnesses such as mesothelioma or asbestosis.

How are Pleural Plaques Diagnosed?

Because pleural plaques often do not produce any symptoms of their own, they normally are only diagnosed when a person has had a chest x-ray (which is often for another purpose).

In more uncommon instances pleural plaque can cause stiffness to the chest area, which will make it slightly harder for the person affected to breathe normally. Because this manifest itself in a very slight way, it is often difficult for the person involved to notice this change in breathing. In rare circumstances, pleural plaque can also distort the lung it has formed on, which can reduce the lung’s efficiency.

Problems with Compensation Claims for Pleural Plaque Illness

The current legal position in England and Wales is that those suffering from pleural plaque cannot claim compensation. This may be because the disease itself does not have any symptoms. The presence of pleural plaque may, however, point to asbestos exposure if the person is also suffering from symptoms which could suggest asbestosis or mesothelioma.

This position has been the case since August 2011. Before this date, the Government had a scheme in place which awarded those suffering with pleural plaque who were pursuing claims before October 2007 a statutory payment of £5000.

In Scotland, however, it is currently possible to claim for pleural plaque and other related conditions using the Damages (Asbestos Related Conditions) (Scotland) Bill.

The House of Lords has stated that should new medical evidence come to light, the government will reassess the legal stance they have taken.

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