Deaths from Asbestos Exposure

Asbestos exposure can be deadly if asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested. In some cases, exposure to asbestos can cause life-threatening diseases like mesothelioma. Malignant mesothelioma killed 2,597 Americans in 2015. Until asbestos is completely banned, it poses a deadly health threat.

Understand Your Legal Options

Mesothelioma Death Rates in the U.S.

General statistics regarding deaths from asbestos exposure are ever-changing.

However, it’s safe to estimate well over 10,000 people across the United States pass away annually due to illnesses related to asbestos exposure.

Did You Know?

A recent report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) claims that between 189,000 and 221,000 American deaths were linked to asbestos exposure from 1999 to 2013.

The EWG cautioned their estimates about deaths from asbestos are conservative. In reality, the number of deaths from asbestos exposure could reach 20,000 each year.

There’s a good reason why asbestos-related death statistics are erratic: inconsistent diagnosis and death classifications by physicians and coroners.

Many people who suffered diseases directly related to asbestos finally succumbed to ailments like cardiac arrest, stroke, or a pulmonary embolism.

While those may be the final cause of death, the underlying contributor may have been the asbestos-related disease.

Further, mesothelioma — a rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure — is often misdiagnosed as less serious health problems.

Common misdiagnoses include:

  • Bronchitis
  • COPD
  • Emphysema
  • Fibrosis
  • Pneumonia
  • Tuberculosis

The EWG relied on statistics from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) database.

Their most recent figures listed multiple causes of death, which is somewhat confusing.

Some of the death certificates recorded known asbestos-caused disorders as primary death causes. Others made faint reference to asbestos-related diseases as secondary or third level factors.

They also report many deaths classified without proper medical antemortem supervision and diagnosis. As well, many cases were concluded without accurate postmortem histology exams.

Yet regardless of how many people die from asbestos, the facts remain: the mineral is a deadly risk to public health, and until it is totally banned in the United States, it will continue to be.

History of Asbestos-Related Deaths

Archaeological evidence supports that humans have been using products with asbestos-containing products for thousands of years.

Even then, respiratory and other diseases were linked to asbestos exposure.

Did You Know?

The Romans first documented a high rate of early deaths in their asbestos workers. Roman author Pliny the Elder termed this phenomenon the “disease of slaves.”

It was the Industrial Revolution where modern asbestos use caught on.

Steam power was the catalyst driving the Industrial Age, and tons of asbestos materials insulated and fireproofed boilers, furnaces, and ductwork.

This trend caught on in shipyards and factories. Soon many different building products contained asbestos fibers to add strength and reduce weight.

All this time, deaths from asbestos exposure continued.

For example, a woman named Nellie Kershaw died in 1924 after working in a textile factory where asbestos was used.

Hers was the first documented death from asbestos — though it certainly was not the first, and wouldn’t be the last.

Deaths from Asbestos-Related Diseases

Asbestos exposure can cause several diseases to develop, many of which can lead to death. Learn more about these asbestos diseases below.


This is a common lung disease caused by airborne asbestos exposure. Inhaled asbestos fibers irritate the inner lungs, causing scar tissue to form.

Eventually, this scar tissue becomes thick and heavy. It blocks the air sacs and weighs the lungs down to the point where breathing is difficult or impossible.

Asbestosis is a benign (non-cancerous) disease as it doesn’t spread outside the lungs.

It’s not always fatal, but the majority of deaths from asbestos are attributed to asbestosis.

Lung Cancer

Only around 20 percent of malignant (cancerous) lung cancer tumors are caused by asbestos exposure. Most lung cancers are due to smoking and exposure to other carcinogens.

However, asbestos-related lung cancer is often fatal unless caught in the early stages.

By the time the first symptoms present, lung cancer that is caused by asbestos may have progressed too far to stop.

Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy treatments are the main lung cancer treatments.


Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of malignant mesothelioma.

This cancer usually affects the lung lining (the pleura) but can also settle in the linings of the heart, abdomen, and testicles.

There is no cure for mesothelioma and it is almost always fatal. Lifestyle adjustments and pain relief medications best manage mesothelioma cases.

Mesothelioma Mortality Rates Today
Mesothelioma mortality rates remain high even today. According to the CDC, nearly 2,600 U.S. citizens died of mesothelioma in 2015.

Other Asbestos-Related Diseases

Outside of the diseases listed above, asbestos exposure has been linked to several other diseases.

These diseases include:

Almost any form of cancer can be life-threatening. Pleural effusions and pleural plaques, while not health issues, may be risk factors for more serious health problems like mesothelioma.

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, you may be eligible for financial compensation to help you pay for treatment.

Which Types of Asbestos Are Deadly?

Every type of asbestos is a deadly carcinogen — there is no “safe” type of asbestos.

This means that exposure to any type of asbestos may qualify victims of asbestos-related diseases to receive financial compensation.

There are six different types of asbestos, which fall into two groups. The first group is serpentine asbestos. These fibers are long and wavy. Chrysotile asbestos is the only member of the serpentine group.

Did You Know?

About 90% of all American asbestos products contain serpentine fibers.

Amphibole asbestos is the other group. These particles are small, hard, and extremely sharp.

Types of asbestos that fall into this group include:

  • Actinolite
  • Amosite
  • Anthophyllite
  • Crocidolite
  • Tremolite

Amphibole asbestos suited high-temperature applications better than chrysotile fibers.

Accordingly, many workers in hot, pressurized occupations like boilermakers and steamfitters experienced the worst asbestos exposure.

Compensation for Asbestos Deaths

Deaths from asbestos-related diseases continue to destroy thousands of families every year. Many of these deaths could have been prevented.

The manufacturers of asbestos-containing products knew their risks were deadly but hid the truth to make a profit.

In the process, they let millions of people be exposed to asbestos and possibly suffer from life-threatening illnesses.

Families affected by a death from asbestos exposure can take legal action against these companies to cover any medical bills or other costs that stemmed from the disease.

Get a free case review today to learn more about receiving compensation after a death from asbestos exposure.

Mesothelioma Support Team
Stephanie KiddWritten by:


Stephanie Kidd grew up in a family of civil servants, blue-collar workers, and medical caregivers. Upon graduating Summa Cum Laude from Stetson University, she began her career specializing in worker safety regulations and communications. Now, a proud member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) and Editor-in-Chief of the Mesothelioma Cancer Network, Stephanie serves as a voice for mesothelioma victims and their families.

View 8 Sources
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  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Malignant Mesothelioma Mortality—United States 1999-2005” Retrieved from Accessed on 16 December, 2017
  4. National Cancer Institute, “Asbestos Exposure and Cancer Risk” Retrieved from Accessed on 16 December, 2017
  5. United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration, “Asbestos” Retrieved from Accessed on 16 December, 2017
  6. U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration, “Asbestos Risks” Retrieved from Accessed on 16 December, 2017
  7. United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Asbestos Exposure” Retrieved from Accessed on 16 December, 2017
  8. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Health Effects from Exposure to Asbestos” Retrieved from Accessed on 16 December, 2017
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