Big industry had for years claimed that asbestos was safe and not a risk to human life, and it is only after years of research — and thousands of deaths — that the true dangers of asbestos exposure have become crystal clear. The Centers for Disease Control reports that despite efforts to lower exposure rates to asbestos, more people, and especially tradesmen, are continuing to develop health problems associated with the hazardous fibers.
Doctors with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health performed their research with over 38 years of data. This data showed that the number of premature deaths, or deaths that occurred before the age of 65, from asbestos-related diseases are occurring at a high rate now and will continue to increase in years to come. The increase will become more apparent as the latency period between exposure and the onset of asbestos disease is between 20 to 50 years. Many people exposed to asbestos in their teens and twenties during the 50s and 60s are only now developing symptoms. The diseases take so long to have their full impact that death and disease will continue to grow.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber that was mined and used extensively in insulation and other uses in a wide range of products for its heat resistance. When loose asbestos fibers are inhaled, they “grab onto” the lining of the lungs and other internal organs, which can lead to debilitating and often terminal disease. The terminal lung cancer mesothelioma is a major killer, with most patients diagnosed only having a few months to a year to live.
According to the CDC’s study, almost 13% of victims who died from asbestosis were tradesmen between the ages of 25 and 64. Actually, tradesmen and construction workers accounted for the largest percentage of asbestos-related deaths. Although many uses of asbestos have been banned since the 1980s, researchers still estimate that there are 1.3 million construction workers being exposed to asbestos every year through building demolitions or renovation work.
Contrary to popular belief, asbestos is still in use by some industries today. In their study, the CDC stated that more than 2,000 metric tons of asbestos was used in manufacturing in the US in 2006 alone, and an unknown amount was imported. In addition, asbestos remains in the building materials in many homes and buildings that were built prior to 1970.
The study also cited other top industries in which high rates of asbestos-related diseases among workers were noted, including shipbuilding and repair, the military, and automobile maintenance. Researchers urge for the continued efforts to spread awareness of the dangers of asbestos. Since many symptoms of asbestos-related diseases are similar to other common illnesses and non-asbestos related lung cancer, health experts recommend the use of chest x-rays, CT imaging, and biopsy to diagnose and screen patients who may have been exposed to asbestos either at work or in the home.