Maine Has Highest Rate of Death From Mesothelioma

Asbestos has been a well known carcinogen for decades. Prior to the 1970s, it was used throughout infrastructures because of its chemical, heat, and electric resistance. In the early 1970s, industrial manufacturers halted its use, because asbestos exposure was confirmed as a cause of various asbestos-related diseases, such as mesothelioma an aggressive fatal form of cancer. Because of its long latency period, often several decades, diseases that were caused by exposure that took place years ago are surfacing rapidly now. A new report shows that Maine has the highest death rate from the disease per capita than any other state in the nation. ”We noticed that death rate in Maine is 27.5 per million population the highest rate in the United States,” says Ki Moon Bang, the senior epidemiologist at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which studied mesothelioma mortality rates from 1999 to 2005. During those six years, 173 people from Maine died from the disease. Bang believes that people have fallen ill due to working on or living in old Maine houses that never underwent abatement. There are also naturally-occurring asbestos deposits where Maine borders New Brunswick and Quebec. Another reason that Maine is number one in mesothelioma deaths is due to large companies who used asbestos in the past, such as various “paper companies and chemical companies and the shipyard industry,” Bang says. “A recent study at the National Cancer Institute shows that workers employed in shipyards faces elevated risk from asbestos-related disease.” “I went to my family doctor because I had a backache,” says Dianne Thurston, of Augusta. The 71-year old was sent by her doctor to receive chest x-rays and found a malignant growth by the back of her lungs last September. By the time diagnosis occurs, patients are usually granted 16 months to live. Thurston hopes that her participation in clinical trials of antibodies, along with chemotherapy will better her chances of survival and help others in the future. Well, hopefully it will help other patients shrink their tumors and live longer. She is unsure how she contracted the disease but believes spending 20 years as a schoolteacher may have exposed her to asbestos in the older buildings which have now been torn down. She has not filed a legal claim, but several others in Maine have. “We’ve handled probably over 200 in the last 25 years,” says Bill Higbee, senior partner at the Topsham-based law firm Mcteague, Higbee, Case, Cohen, Whitney & Toker. At the moment the firm is handling 15 mesothelioma cases. Bang believes deaths from the disease will peak in 2010, approximately 40 years after companies started to halt the use of asbestos.