Asbestos: A Looming Crisis in Public Health

26 Feb 2008 by under Organizations, Research/Treatment

A report published recently by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) provides startling and frightening information about the state of asbestos-related disease in the United States today, and its potential for future health issues. A study of official government data reveals an epidemic of asbestos-caused diseases in the United States that claims the life of one out of every 125 American men who die over the age of 50.national meso map.thumbnail Asbestos: A Looming Crisis in Public Health

Ten thousand Americans die each year – a rate approaching 30 deaths per day – from diseases caused by asbestos, according to a detailed analysis of government mortality records and epidemiological studies by the EWG Action Fund. Asbestos kills thousands more people than skin cancer each year, and nearly the number that are slain in assults with firearms, they found.

Another scary statistic shows that was not tracked as a cause of death by federal health officials until 1999. Prior to that time, the (NCHS) and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) tried to estimate the number of deaths due to malignant by using surrogate measures with tumors related to mesotheliomas.

The report states that scientists now know that estimates of mesothelioma based on surrogate indicators dramatically underestimated the number of deaths due to mesothelioma. The EWG Action Fund found the first year that federal officials began tracking mesothelioma as a distinct cause of death, official mortality more than doubled! In 1998, the last year surrogate indicators were used, the estimated number of mesothelioma deaths was 935. One year later, when malignant mesothelioma was specifically coded as a cause of death, the number of deaths was 2,343.

The EWG also estimates that we may not see the peak in U.S. asbestos disease for another 10 years or more.There was widespread use of asbestos in the United States by the mid-1970s. The EWG estimates that more than 3,000 consumer and industrial products on the market at that time contained asbestos; asbestos product factories were polluting nearby neighborhoods; asbestos workers were heavily exposed on the job and were bringing home substantial amounts of asbestos dust to their wives and children; and asbestos was commonly used in public buildings and workplaces for soundproofing, fireproofing, and insulation.

Awareness of the dangers of asbestos to health didn’t develop until the beginning of the 1980s, and safety measures weren’t implemented across the board even then. Asbestos is still not totally banned today. The EWG points out that it remains heavily used in brake shoes and other products, and millions of people are exposed at home or in their workplace by the monumental quantities of asbestos that remain in the built environment — the attic insulation in 30 million American homes, for instance — following decades of heavy use.Asbestos diseases have a 20 to 50 year latency period, meaning that a substantial portion of individuals exposed in the 1960s and 1970s are just now showing up as disease or mortality statistics.

The magnitude of this public health crisis raises profound questions about the wisdom and fairness of doing anything to cut off any avenue that might provide assistance or protection to the tens of thousands of Americans who become sick and die from asbestos exposure.For more information, visit http://www.reports.ewg.org or http://www.ewg.org.

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