Every single day, Americans are dying from diseases linked to asbestos exposure — and recent data suggests the United States may in fact be seeing more asbestos-related deaths than ever before.
According to data compiled by the Institute for Health Metric and Evaluation (IHME), there were more than 40,764 asbestos-related worker deaths in 2019 alone, the year for which the latest metrics are available. That equates to roughly one asbestos-related death every 12 minutes.
The new death toll replaces previous findings by the International Commission of Occupational Health (ICOH), which in 2018 found 39,275 deaths in the United States annually — an increase of roughly 1,500 deaths.
The grim new data points to a very clear takeaway: Asbestos, a well-known human carcinogen, has no place in American homes, buildings or products. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) has maintained for years that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.
Sadly, however, while nearly 70 countries around the world have banned asbestos outright, the U.S. remains the lone developed country that still allows imports and use of asbestos.
How Asbestos Kills More Than 40,000 Americans Each Year
The IHME’s figure of 40,764 asbestos-related deaths per year is based on a compilation of death certificates that indicate asbestos exposure as a contributing factor to a person’s death.
According to the WHO, asbestos can spur the development of certain diseases and cancers, including:
- Lung cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- And other cancers
A naturally occurring mineral once prized for its ability to resist heat and electricity, asbestos was used for decades in thousands of products from insulation to floor tiles. Over time, when these products begin to break down, their deterioration can release microscopic asbestos fibers into the air. It’s when these fibers are inhaled or ingested that asbestos is at its most dangerous.
The WHO explains,
“Exposure to asbestos occurs through inhalation of fibers in air in the working environment, ambient air in the vicinity of point sources such as factories handling asbestos, or indoor air in housing and buildings containing friable (crumbly) asbestos materials.”
Asbestos is a durable mineral, meaning it cannot easily break down once inside the body. Instead, asbestos fibers become lodged in the lining around the lungs, heart and other organs where they can slowly cause the development of tumors.
Because it often takes years — even decades — for asbestos-related diseases to develop, it can be especially difficult for doctors to identify such diseases early on. Often, by the time doctors reach a diagnosis of mesothelioma, for example, the cancer has already advanced to its final stages.
Workers Exposed to Asbestos
It’s important to note that the IHME’s data refers specifically to “worker deaths.” Indeed, it is America’s workers who are most commonly exposed to asbestos, and typically such exposures occur while on the job. Globally, the WHO estimates roughly 125 million people are exposed to asbestos in the workplace.
Certain professions come with a higher risk of asbestos exposure. Construction and renovation, for example, are two trades commonly associated with asbestos exposure. As workers demolish older buildings before revamping them, they may be unwittingly exposing themselves to construction or demolition dust, accidentally breathing in asbestos fibers.
Military personnel and shipyard workers, especially those who served in the U.S. Navy, account for nearly 33% of all mesothelioma deaths. This is due to the fact that a vast majority of the U.S. Navy’s fleet was built using asbestos-containing materials. Sailors and shipyard workers were heavily exposed.
Other asbestos occupations include:
- Aircraft and auto mechanics
Many other professions not included on the list above are also commonly associated with asbestos exposure and asbestos-related diseases.
ADAO Calls on Congress to Ban Asbestos
It’s clear the United States faces a public health crisis when it comes to asbestos.
With more than 40,000 American deaths linked to asbestos each year, asbestos exposure is right behind flu, pneumonia and suicide as one of the top causes of death in the United States.
Led by Co-Founder and President Linda Reinstein, the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) leads the charge in righting this tragic wrong. Simmons Hanly Conroy is proud to have supported ADAO’s efforts for 10 consecutive years at the highest sponsorship level.
Recently, the organization issued a petition that calls on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban asbestos. About the petition, Reinstein writes,
“Families like mine have fought for decades to get the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban the use of asbestos, but instead the administration allows imports and use to continue. It’s long past time that the EPA banned this deadly material once and for all. Enough is enough.”
Join the fight and offer your support by signing the ADAO’s petition today.