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Malignant Mesothelioma Deaths Exceeded 45,000 Over 15 Year Period: CDC

A new government report indicates that malignant mesothelioma caused more than 45,000 deaths from 1999 to 2015, and the number of lives lost each year due to the rare cancer caused by asbestos exposure is continuing to increase, particularly among older Americans who came into contact with the toxic substances decades earlier. 

The only known cause of mesothelioma cancer is exposure to asbestos fibers, which were used in a variety of manufacturing and building industries until most uses were banned more than 30 years ago. The condition is nearly always fatal, as it is often not diagnosed until the cancer is already at a very advanced stage, resulting in a very short life-expectancy after diagnosis.

In an issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) released on March 3, researchers indicate that the number of mesothelioma deaths in the United States is continuing to increase, despite prior projections that suggested the impact of asbestos products should have peaked by now.

Mesothesliom lawsuits are part of the largest mass-tort in U.S. history, with more than 600,000 people having filed a case against more than 6,000 defendants due to injuries caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. In addition to individuals directly exposed to asbestos, a growing number of the lawsuits filed in recent years have involved second-hand exposure among individuals who inhaled fibers carried on on the clothes or in the hair of their parents when they were children.

Prior projections by the CDC suggested that the number of asbestos deaths from malignant mesothelioma would peak years ago. However, that does not appear to be the case.

“The projected number of malignant mesothelioma deaths was expected to increase to 3,060 annually by 2001–2005, and after 2005, mortality was projected to decrease,” the CDC study notes.

Instead, from 1999 to 2015, the annual mesothelioma death rate increased by 4.8%, from 2,479 deaths in 1999 to 2,579 deaths in 2015.

Many companies that manufactured asbestos products or caused individuals to be exposed to the toxic substance without providing adequate safety protections have attempted to defend lawsuits over mesothelioma by maintaining that earlier potential exposures are the cause of the disease. However, the new study raises concerns that exposures continue.

The study indicates that the death rates among those 85 and older likely represents exposures from decades ago. However, even though rates among under 64 overall have decreased, the rate at which death rates continue to occur in those under the age of 55 has CDC researchers concerned. Those rates, and other evidence, suggest that asbestos exposure continues at levels that are unacceptable, the researchers determined.

According to the CDC’s findings, 20% of air samples collected in the construction industry in 2003 exceeded permissible exposure limits for asbestos. The CDC also found that many asbestos products remain in use, and that “new asbestos-containing products continue to be manufactured in or imported into the United States.”

“Contrary to past projections, the number of malignant mesothelioma deaths has been increasing,” CDC researchers concluded. “The continuing occurrence of mesothelioma deaths, particularly among younger populations, underscores the need for maintaining efforts to prevent exposure and for ongoing surveillance to monitor temporal trends.”

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