Asbestos - The Dangers
Asbestos Knowledge Base
Asbestosis is a dreadful disease for which there is no cure. Breathing in air containing asbestos dust can lead to asbestos-related diseases. These are mainly cancers of the chest and lungs. There is usually a long delay between first exposure to asbestos and the onset of disease. This can vary between 15 and 60 years. The vast majority of people now dying were exposed to asbestos during the 1950s and 1960s when the use of asbestos was widespread. There is no effective treatment for the illness and few people live more than three years after becoming ill. Building, engineering and shipyard workers are at the highest risk and nearly all victims are male. Only by preventing these exposures now, will asbestos-related disease eventually be eradicated.
Professor Julian Peto of the Institute of Cancer Research and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has predicted a European epidemic in mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lung caused by exposure to asbestos. Professor Peto and colleagues expect the epidemic to peak around 2020 and then decline. Mesothelioma deaths (in Western Europe) will total about 250,000 by 2034.
- "The highest risk will be among men born around 1945 and 1950. About one in 150 of all men aged around 50 in Western Europe will eventually die of mesothelioma.
- "The risk is of course much higher among men who worked with asbestos."
- Asbestos is a fibrous, heat resistant insulating material. Professor Peto described as a particularly dangerous material.
- "It far exceeds all other known industrial carcinogens," he said.
Professor Julian Peto's 1995 survey showed that the largest single group of people at risk of coming into contact with asbestos was building and maintenance workers, often accidentally exposed to asbestos-containing materials. This group accounts for approximately 25% of the 3,000 annual deaths from asbestos related diseases. The workers, their own employers, and even those in control of the building are often unaware that asbestos was present during maintenance work.
Maintenance and building workers may have breathed in asbestos fibres during their day-to-day work with asbestos materials, or because work with asbestos was carried out near to them. Until recently it was thought that those now dying from asbestos-related diseases were exposed to large amounts of asbestos either regularly or during a single spell of work lasting from a few weeks to a few years. It is now thought possible that repeated low level exposures, such as those that could occur during routine repair work, may also lead to asbestos-induced cancers. The scientific evidence on exactly what levels of exposure cause disease is unclear. But we do know that the more asbestos fibres are inhaled, the greater the risk to health. That is why it is important that everyone who works with asbestos, or presumed asbestos, should take the strictest precautions.
Asbestos-related diseases are currently killing an estimated 3000 people a year in Great Britain. This number is expected to go on rising over until about 2020 when deaths are expected to exceed 10,000 per year. There is no cure for asbestos-related diseases.
There is usually a long delay between first exposure to asbestos and the onset of disease. This can vary between 15 - 60 years. The vast majority of people now dying were exposed to asbestos during the 1950s and 1960s when the use of asbestos was widespread. But exposure is still occurring. Only by preventing these exposures now, will asbestos-related disease eventually be eradicated.
World Wide Considerations
With the US about the same market size as Europe and the rest of the world rather bigger - and some would argue less developed - , it is easy to extrapolate figures including death and injury rates and costs to industry to very large figures.