Lung Disease Data Report Shows Asbestosis Deaths on the Rise

July 9, 2003
The Work-Related Lung Disease Surveillance Report 2002, the latest edition of a compendium of information on trends in occupational respiratory diseases and exposures, reveals asbestosis deaths are steadily increasing, while coal workers' pneumoconiosis and silicosis deaths are declining.

The report, which is available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Notable findings from the report include:

  • Asbestosis deaths increased from fewer than 100 in 1968 to more than 1,250 in 1999, with no apparent leveling off of this trend. Asbestosis is now the most frequently recorded cause of death among dust-induced occupational diseases, which are known as pneumoconioses.
  • In contrast to asbestosis, coal workers' pneumoconiosis and silicosis deaths continued to decline, from 1,990 and 308, respectively, in 1990, to 1,003 and 187 in 1999. Despite this decline, significantly elevated silicosis mortality in the miscellaneous non-metallic mineral and stone products, iron and steel foundries, and structural clay products industries was accompanied by quartz dust levels in those same industries that frequently exceeded the permissible or recommended exposure limits.
  • Nearly 2,500 malignant mesothelioma deaths were recorded in 1999. Of those deaths, nearly 20 percent occurred among women, and more than one-third occurred among residents of just five states: California, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio.
  • More than 2,500 cases of work-related asthma were identified from 1993 through 1999 by public health monitoring in the four states (California, Massachusetts, Michigan and New Jersey) that participate in the NIOSH-funded Sentinel Event Notification Systems for Occupational Risks (SENSOR) program. About 80 percent of the cases involved asthma caused by occupational exposures, and another 20 percent involved pre-existing asthma aggravated by occupational exposures.

"By compiling data from many different government sources in one easily accessible place, the WoRLD Surveillance Report saves hours if not days of work for researchers, occupational health professionals or others who have a role in preventing occupational lung diseases that affect nearly every type of industry and occupation," said NIOSH Director John Howard, M.D. "Understanding current trends in such cases is a key step toward identifying employee populations at risk and developing effective preventive measures."

The new edition of the report, also knows as the WoRLD Surveillance Report, with the addition of data from 1997 through 1999. Tables, figures and maps show statistics on asbestosis, coal workers' pneumoconiosis, silicosis, byssinosis, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and respiratory tuberculosis, as well as on associated occupational dust exposures.

The updated edition also includes new sections on malignant mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other interstitial lung disease, as well as smoking status by industry and occupation. In addition, tables are now provided listing U.S. counties with the highest mortality from certain occupational respiratory diseases.

Work-Related Lung Disease Surveillance Report 2002, DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2003-111, is available by calling 1-800-35-NIOSH (1-800-356-4674). The report is also available for downloading at

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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