In the early 1990s, the EPA ordered industries that use asbestos to start phasing it out. After a ten-year study about the effects of asbestos, it was obvious that this substance was extremely dangerous and that continuing to use it would only exacerbate the rising lung cancer and mesothelioma rates. Recent studies have found, however, that even though most industries have ceased using asbestos and many buildings have undergone asbestos remediation, the yearly death toll remains the same.
It is difficult to pin down the exact number of deaths that are a direct result of asbestos. Why? Because lung cancer and mesothelioma may not manifest until decades after the person was first exposed to this substance. They also may not even know that they were ever exposed to asbestos, making it difficult to trace lung cancer back to this substance. It is estimated that between 12,500 and 15,000 people every year die from an asbestos-caused disease. Why the discrepancy? 12,500 is the low-end estimate and 15,000 is the high-end estimate. Both of these estimates are considered to be conservative.
Though exposure to asbestos is rarely included among the causes of death for those that die of lung cancer, most researchers believe that more people will develop lung cancer from asbestos than any other asbestos-related disease. Mesothelioma is the disease that most people associate with asbestos. Caused by tumors in the lining of the lungs, heart, chest, intestines, or reproductive organs, the primary cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure.
Asbestosis, also caused by inhalation of asbestos, is scarring in the lungs or rapid growth triggered by asbestos, both of which make it difficult to breathe. While mesothelioma is easy to identify, it develops with such speed that it can rarely be caught in the early stages. Asbestosis, on the other hand, is often misdiagnosed as another respiratory disease, and therefore many people who die from this disease never get the correct diagnosis.
Just looking at the rates of mesothelioma in the population does not tell the full story. This is an extremely rare disease, and many people who are exposed to asbestos will never develop it. Lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure, on the other hand, is actually very common, though often mislabeled or misattributed. When taken together, the rate of all asbestos-related deaths is staggering.