From the blog

Mapping the Deadly Toll of Asbestos – State by State, County by County

Published: June 30, 2015

WASHINGTON (June 30, 2015) – Fifty years after a landmark medical study definitively established that asbestos kills, the exact death toll remains unknown. Now, new research from EWG Action Fund provides the most accurate estimates available for the deadly impact of asbestos – across the nation and in your back yard.

EWG Action Fund today released an interactive map that shows the number of deaths in each state from 1999-2013. Clicking on a state opens a more detailed map and a table with asbestos deaths in each county.

EWG Action Fund estimates that 12,000 to 15,000 Americans a year die from asbestos-related diseases.

“The deadly legacy of asbestos touches every state and every county in America,” said Alex Formuzis of EWG Action Fund’s Asbestos Nation Campaign. “Because asbestos-related disease may not show up for decades after exposure, thousands more Americans will die in years to come.”

EWG Action Fund arrived at its estimate by combining federal records on deaths from two diseases caused only by asbestos with a projected number of lung cancer deaths from asbestos, derived through a method developed by international asbestos experts.

The greatest number of deaths was in the most populous states. But the study found surprising departures from that expectation.

Six states –Delaware, Maine, Montana, Pennsylvania, Washington and West Virginia – have asbestos-related death rates 50 to 100 percent higher than the national average. And 28 counties reported death rates four to 13 times higher than the national average.

The Residents of the following states endured the greatest number of asbestos-related deaths between 1999 and 2013:

State Asbestos-related deaths,
California 21,338
Florida 14,248
Pennsylvania 14,216
New York 12,146
Texas 11,905
Ohio 9,960
Illinois 9,720
New Jersey 9,395
Michigan 7,878
Washington 7,244

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration estimates that 1.3 million Americans are exposed to asbestos on the job. When inhaled, the microscopic asbestos fibers can cause asbestosis, mesothelioma and other diseases, some of which can take up to 50 years to show symptoms. Most cases are fatal.

Not all of the victims of asbestos-related disease are workers. People made ill or killed by asbestos include family members of people who work with asbestos. The Asbestos Nation campaign has dedicated its website to Michael Bradley, who died last year at the age of 29. Michael likely was exposed to asbestos fibers during visits to his father’s workplace and hugs he received from his father.

EWG Action Fund’s previous analysis of government asbestos mortality data found that, “non-paid worker at own home” was the top ranked business classification on death certificates for mesothelioma. Presumably most of these cases were housewives and family members of people who worked with asbestos.

The only way to eliminate asbestos-related disease is to eliminate exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is still lethal, legal and continues to pose serious risks to millions of American families.

In 1989, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency attempted to ban asbestos under the authority of the federal Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. However, a federal appeals court vacated most of the EPA regulation. The episode highlights the weakness of a chemicals control law meant to protect people from hazardous materials such as asbestos.

Congress is considering legislation to overhaul the Toxic Substances Control Act. But the two bills garnering the most support in both the House and Senate do not provide for expedited review of asbestos nor do they remove the legal hurdles inhibiting EPA regulation of asbestos.

Two other pieces of legislation before Congress also have direct implications for asbestos victims and Americans trying to avoid exposure. The Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act (H.R. 526) authored by Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex,) seeks to erect a series of roadblocks designed to slow down compensating those who were sickened by asbestos. It has strong backing from the asbestos and insurance industries. The Farenthold bill would force disclosure of victims’ sensitive, personal information online, putting them at risk of identity theft. Under this bill, many victims would likely die before their claims were processed.

A bill that would help Americans steer clear of asbestos is the Reducing Exposure to Asbestos Database Act, or READ Act, sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill) and Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wa). It would create an online database of products that contain the lethal mineral and inform consumers where those items are likely to be publicly accessible in their communities.


EWG Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization that is a separate sister organization of the Environmental Working Group. The mission of EWG Action Fund is to protect health and the environment by educating the public and lobbying on a wide range of environmental issues. Donations to EWG Action Fund are not tax-deductible.

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