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Asbestos-Related Deaths Increasing, Government Report Says

Asbestos Exposure on the Job Still a Problem

Deaths in the United States from asbestosis increased 400% during the last two decades, according to government statistics (Changing Patterns of Pneumoconiosis Mortality, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)). A painful scarring of the lungs caused by inhalation of asbestos, asbestosis generally develops from ten to 40 years or more after initial exposure. Experts believe asbestosis mortality rates will continue to climb because the risk of asbestos exposure remains high in many jobs and industries.

The CDC statistics are from death certificates for the period from 1968 through 2002. The increase in asbestos deaths was generally greater among blacks than among whites and mainly effected those over 45 years of age. The number of deaths from asbestosis in 1968 was 77; the number in 2002 was 1,493.

The report also looked at deaths in different job categories in selected states from 1985 through 1999. The industry category with the highest death rate from asbestosis was nonmetallic mineral and stone products. Earlier statistics had shown that ship builders and repairers had the highest mortality rate from asbestos-related diseases.

Asbestos Is Still With Us

Asbestos was used extensively during World War II when it was common in ships. Longshoremen, pipefitters, insulators and other shipyard workers risked contact with the substance. During the 1960s through the 1980s, asbestos was very common in building materials.

Contrary to what many people believe, asbestos has not been banned and remains in many products ranging from potting soil to brake linings, pipeline wrap, roofing, and insulation. Disturbing or drilling into an asbestos-containing product may allow asbestos fibers to become airborne, where they can be inhaled. Car mechanics who work on asbestos-containing brakes risk exposure to asbestos dust. Construction workers may be exposed to asbestos in building materials and structures. (For further information about asbestos on the job, see Risk Factors for Asbestos Diseases.) Asbestos may also pose a health hazard for family members. For example, if a worker brings homes asbestos dust on clothing or shoes, the spouse or child may come into contact with asbestos.

Statistics Did Not Include Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma

The CDC report did not include statistics about mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer of the lining of the lungs or abdomen that is caused by exposure to asbestos. The report also did not take into account asbestos-related lung cancer deaths. No doubt including these two diseases in the statistics would greatly increase the estimates of deaths due to asbestos.

Recently, a study by the Environmental Working Group found that about 10,000 deaths per year nationwide are due to asbestos exposure. The report included deaths from mesothelioma, asbestosis, gastrointestinal (GI) cancers, and asbestos-related lung cancer. It was based on government death certificates, statistics, and population studies.

At Brayton Purcell, our asbestos attorneys have seen the full gamut of asbestos-related diseases from lung scarring to mesothelioma. These cases resulted from on-the-job asbestos exposure as well as from secondhand exposure. If you have been diagnosed with asbestosis, mesothelioma, or another asbestos-related disease, please feel free to contact us to learn about your legal options.

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