IT was the energy boom that turned the north-east into an industrial powerhouse.

But as well as jobs and wealth, the oil explosion of the 1970s may have created a major health timebomb.

A spike in asbestos-related disease in the region is directly linked to mainland construction projects carried out to facilitate the growth of the multi-billion pound industry, a support group has claimed.

It is understood that “at least” 16 members of the group alone, Asbestos Action, have died from asbestos exposure in the past 10 months.

The tiny fibres can cause a range of serious conditions after being inhaled, including incurable lung condition asbestosis and killer cancer mesothelioma.

An awareness event will be held in an Aberdeen hotel today amid fears that the death toll will rise with workers exposed to the cancer-causing substance before tight regulations were introduced in the 1980s.

A ban on its use was introduced in 1999, 75 years after the first asbestos-related death was recorded.

The decision came later than in many other countries and the UK as a whole has one of the highest incidences of mesothelioma in the world.

It is thought that the number of deaths from the condition will peak within a few years, possibly by 2020, before gradually reducing.

John Fearn, manager at not-for-profit charity Asbestos Action – which supports families along the east coast – said: “The harm caused by asbestos is not an issue isolated to Scotland’s central belt, and in the last few years across the north-east, the number of those seeking health, social and legal support has increased in an unprecedented scale – so much so that we’ve employed an Aberdeen-based respiratory nurse to assist those in need.

“The background of our clients in this area leads us to believe their conditions have been contracted by working their trades during the time of the oil boom when construction work shared in the nearby wealth of oil and gas.

“Conditions like asbestosis, asbestos-related lung cancer and mesothelioma have caused the deaths of 16 of our north-east clients in the last 10 months.

“When people die in these numbers across north-east roads the public spotlight rightly highlights safety issues – however we rarely hear of officials supporting sufferers of asbestos.

“Asbestos Action will continue to support everyone we can and we encourage everyone – especially GPs and social care officials – to be mindful of the gaps in advice in support needed by individuals and their families so they are prepared for the future.”

Law firm Digby Brown Solicitors will send partner Fraser Simpson to speak at today’s event, which will be held at Aberdeen’s Jury’s Inn hotel.

While asbestos-related illness is often associated with the heavy industry of the Clyde, the company claims to have secured payouts of more than £1.3 million for north-east victims and their families in the past 18 months alone.

A spokesperson said: “Because some employers loosely followed, or completely ignored, asbestos safety rules it meant many tradesmen faced exposure to dangerous asbestos fibres on a daily basis.

“This later resulted in workers contracting conditions ranging from asymptomatic pleural plaques to a terminal lung cancer called

mesothelioma which can prove fatal in a matter of weeks of diagnosis.”

Calling for greater awareness among both doctors and communities, Simpson, who heads the company’s industrial disease team, said: “North-east cases are becoming increasingly prevalent and the tragic thing about this is our numbers only relate to those who have stepped forward to launch a civil action.

“I’m in no doubt others will be out there but are simply unaware of how to go about seeking legal assistance.

“This is why we need to highlight the issues to sufferers and health care professionals, to bridge the gaps in support. Someone diagnosed with any asbestos-related disease – no matter how benign – could lose their right to damages, if they fail to seek specialist advice and support within three years of the date of initial diagnosis, even if they later develop a more serious asbestos disease.”