Asbestos-Related Deaths Continue to Climb

While deaths from certain occupational diseases have declined in the past 30 years, deaths from asbestosis continue to rise and now surpass the death rates from other disabling diseases of the workplace such as silicosis and coal workers' pneumonoconiosis (black lung).

In a study published in the July 23 edition of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, researchers found that despite a general decline of pneumoconiosis deaths, asbestosis deaths have increased and are now the most reported pneumoconiosis deaths on death certificates.

"Even though the use of asbestos has declined substantially, leading to fewer workers significantly exposed, and despite regulation, new cases of asbestosis continue to appear as a result of exposures that occurred many years or decades ago," wrote researchers.

According to their findings, the number of asbestosis deaths increased from 77 deaths in 1968 to 1,493 deaths in 2000. According to researchers, "Asbestosis mortality peaks 40-45 years after initial occupational exposure to asbestos."

In addition, said researchers, incidents of asbestosis increased substantially throughout the United States, particularly in the coastal states, where asbestos was used in shipbuilding.

"Considerable progress has been made toward elimination of the pneumoconioses. Nevertheless, certain pneumoconioses considered to be nearly eliminated are still occurring and causing deaths, even among young workers. Pneumoconioses are preventable, and efforts to continue to eliminate these diseases should continue," the researchers, lead by Michael Attfield, Ph.D., NIOSH Division of Respiratory Disease Studies, concluded.

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