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Asbestos Exposure Causes Up to 15,000 Deaths in U.S. Each Year: Report

New research suggests that between 12,000 and 15,000 Americans continue to die each year due to the side effects of asbestos exposure, decades after most uses of the toxic substance were banned. 

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) Action Fund has issued a report that analyzes the number of deaths linked to asbestos, which are typically hard to gauge because of a lack of consistent reporting.

The group indicates that conservative estimates suggest that between 12,000 to 15,000 deaths in the U.S, each year due to inhalation of asbestos fibers, which could come from direct contact with the substances decades ago or breathing fibers carried home on the clothes or in the hair of family members who worked with asbestos-containing products.

Asbestos has been used in a variety of manufacturing and building industries, but most uses in the United States were banned more than 30 years ago. However, asbestos may cause a variety of ailments that do not surface until decades after exposure.

According to the report, the three most common causes of death linked to asbestos are mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer, which is only known to be caused by exposure to asbestos and breathing asbestos fibers. It is a lethal disease that is often at a very advanced stage when a diagnosis is made, resulting in a very short life-expectancy.

The study looked at data on asbestosis and mesothelioma from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s WONDER database from 1999 to 2013, and a 2012 study on lung cancer. According to the report, mesothelioma was listed as the cause of death in 39,870 deaths from 1999 to 2013. Asbestosis was the cause of death in 20,317 deaths. Lung cancer linked to asbestos exposure was the hardest to calculate, but using a variety of sources, the EWG Action Fund estimates that between 127,579 and 159,480 Americans died of lung cancer linked to asbestos exposure during the same time period.

The group noted that asbestos-related lung cancer deaths dwarf deaths by mesothelioma and asbestosis combined.

In 2009, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that the number of asbestos deaths from mesothelioma were continuing to rise, but were expected to have peaked by now as more time passes since the substance was banned.

Lawsuits over asbestos exposure continue to be filed throughout the U.S., with more than 600,000 people having filed a case against more than 6,000 defendants after being diagnosed with mesothelioma or other related injuries that were allegedly caused by inhaling asbestos fibers.

While mesothelioma lawsuits have traditionally been filed by individuals who worked with asbestos-containing products, an increasing number of secondary exposure mesothelioma cases have been brought in recent years on behalf of spouses, children and other family members who developed the disease after breathing asbestos fibers brought home in the hair or on the clothing of individuals who worked directly with the material.

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