Ten thousand Americans die each year from diseases caused by asbestos, and the number is not likely to decrease soon.
Based upon studies by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Action Fund, the number of deaths each year puts asbestos-related disease on an epidemic level in the United States. Although asbestos receives little public attention, the carcinogen kills thousands more people each year than skin cancer. While mesothelioma, the “signature” cancer caused by asbestos exposure, used to be confined to older men who worked in industrial or construction jobs, there has been an increase in the number of women and younger people who suffer from the cancer. Often mesothelioma in younger people and women is caused by secondhand exposure.
Asbestos is still not banned in the U.S., even though it has been established that there is no “safe” level of exposure to asbestos and there is also no such thing as the “responsible” use of asbestos.
Asbestos use was at its height in the United States in the mid 1970s; however, its use did not stop then. At the height of asbestos use more than 3,000 consumer and industrial products contained asbestos. In addition, asbestos manufacturers polluted communities, and workers were exposed at worksites, bringing home the harmful of dust on their clothing. Asbestos also permeated the infrastructure of public buildings and workplaces as it was used for soundproofing, fireproofing, and insulation.
While the use of asbestos diminished in the mid 1970s, it was not completely eliminated from future use. In fact, the use of asbestos is not banned in the United States. Currently asbestos is used in roofing, construction products and brake shoes, exposing people who are in direct contact and indirectly exposing bystanders and family members. In addition, millions of people are exposed at home or in their workplace through the large quantities of asbestos that remain in our infrastructures. (Note: As long as the asbestos in older building is undisturbed, it is harmless. However, if the material is disturbed through renovation or natural disasters, the asbestos fibers will be released. When inhaled or ingested, these fibers have the potential to cause harmful asbestos diseases, such as mesothelioma.)
The Nature of Asbestos
Asbestos fibers are virtually invisible to the naked eye. Once in the air, a person can inhale or ingest the fibers. Someone who is exposed and inhales or ingests asbestos fibers, however frequent or infrequent, is at risk for developing asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and asbestos lung cancer.
Asbestos companies are constantly lobbying for legislation that would make it more difficult for mesothelioma patients to get the compensation they deserve. The U.S is still importing products containing asbestos today, creating new cases of asbestos related disease in the future.
Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) came close to passing a ban on asbestos in the 1980s, the agency eventually caved to corporate lobbying pressures from the asbestos industry. The asbestos companies’ unwillingness to take full responsibility for the asbestos crisis and the U.S government’s conflicted interests make the asbestos crisis very real and, unfortunately, it has no definitive end in sight.