The harmful and deadly effects that asbestos fibres may cause may have been seriously underestimated, medical researchers have revealed.
The caution comes at a time when thousands of people with asbestos-related illnesses are waiting to hear whether they can sue for compensation.
Expected this week is an announcement from the British Ministry of Justice on whether it will reverse a landmark judgment that prevents those diagnosed with pleural plaques, an early indicator of contamination, from taking legal action.
Statistical figures suggest that about 90,000 people a year may be developing the condition.
Despite that, the government's Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) has recommended against adding it to the approved list of "compensatable disablement" schemes.
Medical experts say that those exposed to asbestos may go on to develop mesothelioma and other asbestos-related cancers.
Earlier, it was thought that these diseases generally hit people associated with heavy industry, including asbestos-processing factories and shipyards.
However, patterns of premature fatalities have started to emerge in other professions, including electricians, plumbers, garage mechanics, teachers and even hairdressers.
According to a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) report, the UK epidemic may peak in the middle of the next decade with about 5,000 deaths a year, considering that the period between diagnosis of mesothelioma and death is usually brief.
"Sufficient evidence is now available to show that asbestos also causes cancer of the larynx (throat) and of the ovary," the Guardian quoted the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as having reported in the Lancet Oncology magazine this summer.
Estimating that as many as 125 million people worldwide still work in asbestos-contaminated offices and factories, the scientists noted:
"Although asbestos has been banned or restricted in most of the industrialised world, its use is increasing in parts of Asia, South America and the former Soviet Union."
A team of London-based public health researchers highlight the fact that over half of work-related deaths from six major cancers in the UK are due to asbestos.
"Estimates for all six cancers (in terms of the number of occupation-related deaths) but leukaemia, are greater than those currently used in UK health and safety strategy planning," the paper in Occupational Environmental magazine concludes.
The true level of asbestos-related deaths is partially disguised by the fact that those who contract lung cancer tend to blame themselves for smoking at some stage in their life rather than making a connection to asbestos.
While the Ministry of Justice is expected to announce this week whether it will overturn a landmark House of Lords judgment made in 2007 that barred claimants from suing for compensation if they have been diagnosed as suffering from pleural plaques, the Scottish parliament has already passed legislation to overturn the law lords' decision.