Facts About Asbestos Exposure: Statistics, Production and Disease

specimen of brown asbestos isolated on white

Although asbestos mining and production in the United States has significantly dropped since the 1980s, asbestos exposure continues to raise concerns. For example, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) was recently dispatched to Ansonia, Connecticut where they investigated reports of contamination in the Naugatuck River. As part of their investigation, a nearby building was found to contain asbestos which is contaminating the area.

Thankfully, strict governmental guidelines highly regulate asbestos, from identifying its presence to standardizing its safe removal. The dangerous and deadly effects of asbestos exposure have been well documented for over 50 years. But just how dangerous is it? Does the U.S. still mine and manufacture products containing asbestos? Are other countries similarly controlling asbestos mining and use? These are important questions that can be answered by a brief look at some asbestos facts and statistics.

General Statistics About Asbestos Production

Asbestos was heavily used in American commercial products prior to the 1970s, when governmental regulations were implemented. Of the six types of fibrous materials known as asbestos, chrysotile is most widely used.

  • Chrysotile, or white asbestos, represents 90-95 percent of asbestos used worldwide.
  • Worldwide asbestos production peaked in 1973, with the U.S. mining and processing about 804,000 tons.
  • In 2018, the U.S. chemical industry quadrupled its importation of asbestos compared to the year before.
  • In 2020, the U.S. imported nearly double the amount of asbestos that was imported in 2019.
  • Over 2 million tons of asbestos is currently consumed around the globe.
  • While there has been a decrease in production globally, some countries (including the U.S.) have significantly increased asbestos importation.
  • Asbestos has been banned in more than 60 countries, but is not currently banned in the U.S.
  • Currently, the top asbestos producers are Russia, Kazakhstan, China, and Brazil.
  • The U.S. banned asbestos mining in 2002.

Asbestos Disease/Death Facts and Statistics

Workers in construction, manufacturing, and other blue-collar occupations are at greatest risk for developing an asbestos-related illness. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began tracking asbestos-related illnesses and deaths in 1999.

  • About 20 percent of asbestos workers develop an asbestos-related disease later in life.
  • Asbestos is the primary cause of work-related deaths worldwide.
  • Approximately 90,000 deaths are attributed to asbestos globally each year.
  • About 125 million workers worldwide remain at risk annually.
  • 27 million American workers were exposed to asbestos on the job from 1940 to 1980.
  • About 1.3 million American workers remain at risk for asbestos exposure today.
  • An estimated 1,290 Americans will die each year from an asbestos-related disease through 2027.
  • 43,073 mesothelioma deaths were recorded in the U.S. between 1979 and 2001.
  • The latency period from the time of exposure to becoming symptomatic is 10-50 years.

An overall decline of asbestos-related diseases is expected in future years. This is due to high-risk exposures dropping off after the 1980s, when asbestos became highly regulated and its mining and use sharply declined. Mesothelioma numbers, for example, were expected to peak between 2016 and 2020, then proportionally fall off.

Knowing these important statistics about asbestos can help you better understand the health risks it presents and why avoiding exposure is so important.

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