Asbestos Epidemic Will Kill 12,000, Says Study

Nov. 30, 2000
Cancers caused by inhaling asbestos dust will kill up to 12,000\r\nNew Zealanders, mostly building workers, according to a study.

Cancers caused by inhaling asbestos dust will kill up to 12,000 New Zealanders, mostly building workers, according to a study.

"The asbestos cancer epidemic has started," two Auckland Medical School researchers reported in an article published last week in the New Zealand Medical Journal.

Based on their calculations, the researchers said, up to 4,000 people will die from malignant mesothelioma and another 8,000 from asbestos-related lung cancer.

Mesothelioma is a cancerous tumor that usually grows in the pleura, the membrane surrounding the lungs, after microscopic needles of asbestos have "migrated" through the lung tissue.

The disease can lie unnoticed for 30 years after exposure, and then cause only vague symptoms, including breathlessness and chest pain. It is incurable and usually kills within a year of diagnosis.

The researchers tracked imports of crude asbestos, which peaked at 12,500 tons in 1974 and dropped to zero by 1992, suggesting the epidemic could peak in the next 10 to 15 years.

But they expect that an ongoing "tail" of post-epidemic cases resulting from the asbestos already installed in offices, factories and homes will exceed the pre-epidemic background rate.

The New Zealand Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) service said asbestos should cause problems in homes only if it is crumbling or disturbed, such as by floor sanding after the removal of certain vinyl floor coverings, some of which had asbestos backings.

At least 13,000 people have reported workplace asbestos exposure in New Zealand.

Since 1992, 923 cases of asbestos-related disease have been reported to an OSH register, 30 percent of them cancer, although many cases are thought to go unreported.

Ninety percent of mesothelioma victims are men, most of them from the building trades.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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EHS Today Staff

EHS Today's editorial staff includes:

Dave Blanchard, Editor-in-Chief: During his career Dave has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including IndustryWeekEHS Today, Material Handling & LogisticsLogistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance. In addition, he serves as senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference. With over 30 years of B2B media experience, Dave literally wrote the book on supply chain management, Supply Chain Management Best Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2021), which has been translated into several languages and is currently in its third edition. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at major trade shows and conferences, and has won numerous awards for writing and editing. He is a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame, and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

Adrienne Selko, Senior Editor: In addition to her roles with EHS Today and the Safety Leadership Conference, Adrienne is also a senior editor at IndustryWeek and has written about many topics, with her current focus on workforce development strategies. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics. Previously she was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck?, which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list.

Nicole Stempak, Managing Editor:  Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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