From the blog

Why Does Asbestos-Related Disease Continue to Rise?

Published: March 21, 2019

In early 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that despite the decline of asbestos use once the product became regulated in the United States, mesothelioma rates continue to rise, with a total of 45,221 deaths in the United States alone from 1999 to 2015. Scientists and researchers struggle to pinpoint reasoning behind this while anti-asbestos advocates believe current government regulations are not enough.

Occupational Exposure
Decades of widespread asbestos use in the United States means that today asbestos can be found in most infrastructures built before 1980. Asbestos can be found in insulation, drywall, flooring, and roofing in ordinary buildings. As years pass and the buildings begin to deteriorate, construction workers are called for either renovation or demolition. It is during repair and demolition that asbestos fibers may become disturbed and airborne, increasing the threat of exposure. If construction workers do not take the necessary precautions, these workers may find themselves suffering from an asbestos-caused illness decades into the future.

Age of Diagnosis
Mesothelioma affects the elderly the most, with the CDC reporting that the number of deaths has increased overall in individuals over the age of 85. However, the CDC also suspects a number of factors that contribute to asbestos exposure in today’s youth, affecting those between the ages of 25 and 44 years. While occupational exposure is the most likely risk factor, environmental exposure and bystander exposure contribute to mesothelioma incidence rates among a younger generation.

Government Regulations
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) limits how much asbestos can be present in the workplace, but a 2003 CDC report of air samples collected in the construction industry show 20 percent of samples exceed the permissible exposure limit (PEL). The EPA attempted to ban asbestos in the late 1980s, but the ban was over turned in 1991 and asbestos products continue to be imported to the United States. In fact, asbestos consumption nearly doubled in the past year from 343 tons in 2015 to 705 tons in 2016. These imports come from mainly Brazil and Russia, but with Brazil banning the mineral outright in 2017, the United States will now turn to Russia as its main supplier.

With mesothelioma on the rise even in 2018, anti-asbestos advocates believe that current legislation in place is not enough to prevent illness from exposure. OSHA set a PEL of 0.1 fibers per cubic centimeter (f/cc), but admits the PEL is not meant to establish a safe level of exposure. There is no “safe” level of asbestos exposure for any type of asbestos fiber.

This article first appeared on January 2018

Jacek M. Mazurekm MD, PHD. et. al. “Malignant Mesothelioma Mortality – United States, 1999-2015,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (March 3, 2017). [Link]

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