A recent report by the U.S. non-governmental organization Environmental Working Group (EWG) claims the most recent figures support that during a fourteen-year period from 1999 to 2013, between 189,000 and 221,000 American deaths were linked to asbestos exposure.
That’s an average of between 13,500 and 15,750 deaths per year.
The EWG cautioned their estimates are conservative. Realistic numbers could reach 20,000 asbestos deaths annually.
There’s a good reason why asbestos-related death statistics are erratic. It’s because of 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. Those may be the final anatomical cause of death, but the underlying contributor was an initial disease brought on by long-term asbestos exposure.
The EWG relied on statistics from the United States Center for Disease Control 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.
Misdiagnosis is common with asbestos-related diseases and is especially true with lung disorders. Diseases related to asbestos first-cause are often misdiagnosed as pneumonia, bronchitis, tuberculosis, fibrosis, emphysema and COPD. It’s another good reason to question how valid asbestos-related death figures are. They could be much higher than estimated.