Deaths from Asbestos Exposure Surge in U.S. - Report
July 22, 2004
By Paul Simao
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Deaths from asbestos exposure have surged in the United States and are set to keep rising in the next decade as more workers succumb to the lung disease caused by the industrial mineral, federal health experts warned on Thursday.
The number of Americans who died of asbestosis, which is caused by inhalation of asbestos particles, jumped to 1,493 in 2000 from 77 in 1968, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The incurable disease, marked by shortness of breath and persistent cough and linked to a higher risk of cancer, is now a bigger killer than silicosis and black lung and the deadliest of all work-related respiratory illnesses.
The Atlanta-based CDC warned that the death toll would likely continue rising because of the lag -- often as much as 45 years -- between initial exposure to asbestos fibers and death.
"What we're dealing with is a legacy of the past," said Michael Attfield, an epidemiologist in the CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and one of the study's authors.
Prized for its heat-resistant and insulation properties, asbestos was mined for use in U.S. shipyards and construction sites after World War II. Its use declined sharply in the 1980s after warnings about health risks.
Attfield said that asbestos-tainted materials were still in some factories, workplaces and other buildings across the nation, posing a continued risk of exposure to occupants.
Coastal states such as Alaska, Washington, Mississippi, Virginia, Massachusetts and Maine were among those with the highest rates of asbestosis mortality between 1982 and 2000, according to the CDC study, which analyzed data from death certificates.
The rise in asbestosis deaths has occurred amid a decline in mortality from other occupational lung diseases such as coal workers' pneumoconiosis, or black lung, and silicosis.
The death rate from silicosis and other unspecified pneumoconiosis was 70 percent lower in men between 1982 and 2000 than in the 1968-1981 period. Male mortality due to black lung fell 36 percent over the same time periods.