After 15 Years and 92,000 Asbestos-Related Deaths, Still No Ban

Mesothelioma was first recorded by the World Health Organization in 1994, but extensive demographic pictures just recently have emerged about the deadly disease.  And to no one’s surprise, the incidence of this asbestos-related cancer has increased and the age-adjusted mortality rate more than doubled during a 15-year study period.

According to a recent WHO bulletin, 92,253 deaths from mesothelioma were reported by more than 80 countries between 1994 and 2008.  (Sadly, this number only included mesothelioma deaths, and did not account for victims of other asbestos-related diseases such as asbestosis or lung cancer.)  Most mesothelioma deaths occurred in the United States and in the western and northern regions of Europe, but more generally, deaths occurred in countries with high incomes.  The 10 countries with the highest incidence of mesothelioma deaths are in the industrialized world, including Japan and South Africa.  Not surprisingly, these countries also had high cumulative asbestos use.  South Africa, for example, was once a major producer of asbestos and was the site of the first diagnosed mesothelioma cluster.  The incidence of mesothelioma in countries with high incomes was 16 times the rate of incidence in low-income countries.

Some other disturbing facts from the WHO bulletin:

  • The age-adjusted mortality rate increased by 5.37 percent per year during the study period
  • The mean age at death was 70
  • The ratio of male to female deaths was 3.6 to 1
  • Less than 12 percent of all deaths occurred in middle- and low-income countries

As troubling as these numbers are, the incidence and mortality rates are probably much worse than reported.  The study was not able to draw data from China, India, the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan or Thailand — all countries that have produced and consumed asbestos at high levels over a number of years. 

Given mesothelioma’s long latency period — it sometimes takes 10-50 years after exposure for symptoms to surface — it’s expected that these numbers will only continue to rise until asbestos production and usage is banned.

Perhaps the most shocking fact of all is that this deadly material is still legal in the U.S.

It’s time for federal, state and local governments to understand the urgency of the spreading disease, the lack of any safe level of exposure to asbestos, and its lack of discrimination by age, gender or race of victim.

It’s time to join our fight.

It’s time to ban asbestos.