Luton man's cancer death linked to asbestos exposure, says 'devastated' daughter

A woman whose father died from asbestos-related cancer is appealing to his former workmates for help in establishing how he came to develop his fatal illness.

Monday, 10th May 2021, 1:46 pm
Updated Monday, 10th May 2021, 1:48 pm
Donald Sontag and his wife Alice

Father-of-three Donald Sontag, 88, a former painter and decorator from Luton, died three months after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lung associated with asbestos exposure, often decades previously.

Following Mr Sontag's death, his daughter Debra, 59, has instructed lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to investigate his illness and see if it could be linked to his work history.

Debra is keen to trace anyone who remembers her dad working for Luton Borough Council from 1964 to 1990.

Mr Sontag was employed painting council houses, schools and care homes in Lewsey Farm, Hockwell Ring, Sundon Park, Marsh Farm, Farley Hill, High Town and Stopsley council wards.

Satpal Singh, asbestos-related disease specialist at Irwin Mitchell supporting Debra and the family, said: “As part of our work, we see many cases like Donald, where a normal family is torn apart as a result of past exposure to asbestos.

“While many people associate asbestos exposure with heavy industry its use was widespread in the construction industry as well as public buildings such as schools, hospitals, care homes and offices.

“Donald was in good health prior to his diagnosis and the family has many questions on how he went on to develop the illness that was to blight the final months of his life.

“Nothing can bring Donald back but we’re determined to provide Debra and the rest of Donald’s family with the answers and closure they deserve.

“We’re keen to hear from anyone who worked with Donald over the years and who may be able to shed some light on his working conditions.”

Before his death Donald said his work included painting window and door frames, soffits, fascias, gutters and downpipes, many of which contained asbestos.

Donald told his children prior to his death that when he rubbed, scraped and sanded down some of these surfaces before painting, clouds of dust would be released into the air.

He was not issued with PPE and didn’t recall undertaking any risk assessments, he said.

Born in 1930, Donald was one of nine children, with six brothers and two sisters and remained a "committed family man" his whole life. He married wife Alice in 1957 and the couple were inseparable until Alice died in 2016.

The couple had three children Debra, 59, Kevin, 58 and Glenn, 48 and two grandchildren, Nicola, 29 and Hayley, 24.

Donald enjoyed gardening, reading, swimming, playing badminton, dancing, drawing and painting, watching football, and playing pool. In later years, Donald and Alice became more interested in foreign travel, visiting such places as Italy, Dubrovnik and America together.

Following symptoms including shortness of breath in 2018, Donald consulted his GP. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in May 2018.

He was admitted to hospital on August 30 and died on September 7.

Debra said: “Dad was an amazing man and prior to his diagnosis, remained quite fit and active, so to have his life cut short in this way and to see him suffer was a terrible experience for the whole family and something he didn’t deserve.

“He was a family man through and through and loved life. Ballroom dancing was a real passion and he liked to embarrass Mum on occasion, by tap dancing his way around Tesco.

“Dad was simply one of a kind and his loss has left a real void in our lives and the lives of all who knew and met him.

“Given his personality, I’m sure Dad would be remembered and he worked for the council for many years.

"If any other painters and decorators, or those working in the construction, renovation and maintenance of Luton Council buildings in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s could contact us, it would be a big help.

“Dad didn’t have any contact details for his past colleagues and any information, no matter how small, could make a big difference as we look to find out what led to Dad’s death.”

A Luton Borough Council spokesman said: "A claim was made against the council in 2019. We are unable to comment any further at this time as the case remains open."

Anyone with information in relation to the case that could help Debra and the family is asked to contact Jack Konda on 07894496545 and [email protected]