Asbestos is a silent killer, infecting its victim and waiting years to make its presence known. Many believe asbestos is a threat of the past and assume it’s banned with no risk of exposure. In reality, asbestos remains a deadly and destructive force.
In the 50 years since the landmark medical study definitively indicated asbestos exposure kills, an accurate count of all the lives lost to the deadly fiber is unknown. While certain diseases, like mesothelioma and asbestosis, have no other known causes and are easy to track, others like lung cancer creates issues in the tally.
With lung cancer, the first assumed cause is cigarette smoking and many doctors remain unaware of the connection between asbestos exposure and lung cancer. Smoking combined with asbestos exposure can increase a person’s risk of developing lung cancer nine times. Because the connection isn’t well known, asbestos isn’t immediately identified as a cause of death.
To determine an accurate number, the EWG Action Fund compiled a list of asbestos deaths from 1999 to 2013 across the United States. The research found an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 people die from asbestos-caused diseases every year. This number was reached by combining projected lung cancer deaths and federal records of deaths by two diseases with no other cause than asbestos. International asbestos experts developed the method to accurately project the lung cancer deaths from asbestos.
Many of the most populous states had the most deaths, but others like New York and Pennsylvania reached the top five. In fact, Pennsylvania ranked third with only 28 deaths less than the number two state, Florida. The data is available in an interactive map that breaks it down state by state and into counties.
An in depth look at Pennsylvania found Allegheny County, home of the Steel City itself, has death rates that surpass those of the national average. Don Hopey published an article titled “Study: Asbestos deaths in Allegheny County, Pa. much higher than national average” after reviewing the research and learning many alarming facts. More than 50 years after asbestos became regulated in the workplace, and many still succumb to a related ailment. Regulators know the mineral is a carcinogen yet the use is not banned in the United States.
In fact, asbestos is making the news in other stories because it isn’t banned. Another recent study by the EWG Action Fund found the presence of asbestos in crayons. Several brands, including Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Amscan and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, tested positive for trace amounts of asbestos. Similar to scandals that occurred in the early 2000s, other tests revealed asbestos fibers in crime scene investigation kits for children.
At this time, the crayons and kits aren’t connected to any asbestos-related illnesses because the diseases take decades to develop; however, children are 3.5 times more likely to develop an asbestos related disease than an adult. The presumed life span of a child gives more time for the illness to grow and possibly kill.
Without a true asbestos ban, it will always remain a threat to anyone who’s exposed because scientists agree there is no safe exposure limit. Up to 15,000 people die each year in the United States because of asbestos and thousands more will be affected until the fiber is banned completely.