Thursday, July 22, 2004

A Legacy of the Past: Asbestos Deaths on the Rise

The use of asbestos may be declining in the United States, but asbestos related deaths are on the rise and will continue to rise for at least the next decade according to a new study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health:

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.