According to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mesothelioma deaths are on the rise, despite regulatory actions and a significant decline in asbestos use. In early March, the agency reported that from 1999-2015, a total of 45,221 deaths, with malignant mesothelioma (MM) mentioned on the death certificate as the underlying or contributing cause of death, were reported in the United States, increasing from 2,479 deaths in 1999 to 2,597 in 2015. This a near 5% increase from 1999 to 2015. Years with some of the highest numbers of MM deaths recorded from 1999-2015 were 2014 (2,785), 2012 (2,873), 2011 (2,829), 2010 (2,744), 2009 (2,752), 2008 (2,706), and 2005 (2,701). This indicates even larger increases between 1999 and the years prior to 2015.
The CDC report goes on to explain that malignant mesothelioma deaths increased for persons aged 85 years and older, both sexes, persons of white, black, and Asian or Pacific Islander race, and all ethnic groups. The largest number of deaths occurred among those who worked with asbestos when it was at its peak, so people ages 75-84 (16,914), 65-74 (12,985), and 85-plus (6,476). However, CDC data also included an alarming 682 deaths among those aged 25-44, 1,936 deaths among those aged 45-54, and 6,237 among those aged 55-64.
Of the more than 45,000 mesothelioma deaths recorded by the CDC from 1999-2015, the highest death rates were for Maine and Washington (the highest of the group), Oregon, Wyoming, Minnesota, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. And although those who died from malignant mesothelioma from 1999-2015 worked in dozens of industries, the CDC lists shipbuilding and construction as the most represented industries. This is in line with other reports that suggest exposure to asbestos could still occur, particularly among construction workers that perform demolition, maintenance and repair, installation, and remediation.
The CDC report concluded that the annual number of malignant mesothelioma deaths remains “substantial” and is “increasing, particularly among persons aged 85 years or older, most likely representing exposure many years ago.” Although “malignant mesothelioma deaths decreased in persons aged 35–64 years,” says the report, “the continuing occurrence of mesothelioma deaths among persons aged 55 and older, suggests ongoing occupational and environmental exposures to asbestos fibers, despite regulatory actions by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) aimed at limiting asbestos exposure.”
Though asbestos is regulated, a total ban does not exist. Per the CDC, “the OSHA established a permissible exposure limit for asbestos of 12 fibers per cubic centimeter (f/cc) of air as an 8-hour time-weighted average in 1971. This initial permissible exposure limit was reduced to 5 f/cc in 1972, 2 f/cc in 1976, 0.2 f/cc in 1986, and 0.1 f/cc in 1994 (6).” Though 0.1 f/cc is a small amount, there is no “safe” level of asbestos exposure for any type of asbestos fiber, says the OSHA.
Adler, Cara, Andre Sofair, MD, MPH, and William E. Chavey, MD, MS. "Rise in Mesothelioma Deaths." NEJM Journal Watch. NEJM Group, a Division of the Massachusetts Medical Society, 03 Mar. 2017. Web. 18 May 2017.
"Asbestos Laws and Regulations." EPA.gov. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 01 Sept. 2016. Web. 18 May 2017.
"Asbestos." Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). United States Department of Labor, n.d. Web. 18 May 2017.
Mazurek, Jacek M., Girija Syamlal, John M. Wood, Scott A. Hendricks, and Ainsley Weston. "Malignant Mesothelioma Mortality — United States, 1999–2015." MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 66.8 (2017): 214-18. CDC.gov. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 03 Mar. 2017. Web. 18 May 2017.