Malignant Mesothelioma Mortality on the Rise in U.S. 1999-2015

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now reports that the number of annual malignant mesothelioma deaths increased in the United States between 1999 and 2015 (find the CDC report here). The past projection indicated that the number of mesothelioma deaths was expected to increase to 3,060 annually by 2001 to 2005. Following 2005, the number of mortalities was expected to decrease. However, contrary to the past projection, the current statistics reveal that the annual number of malignant mesothelioma deaths actually increased 4.8% overall--from 2,479 in 1999 to 2,579 in 2015.

What Went Wrong with the Prior Projection?

The CDC explains that the variance between the past projection and current data might be caused by the methodology of the prior studies which were "based on multiple assumptions including variations in the number of employed workers at risk, exposure levels and timing, and the linear dose-response relationship between asbestos exposure and malignant mesothelioma." The CDC elaborates that additional persons who might have been exposed to asbestos, and subsequently be at risk for malignant mesothelioma, such as, family contacts of asbestos-exposed workers, persons exposed to naturally occurring asbestos and persons exposed to asbestos surfacing materials or fireproofing material in buildings were not considered in the prior analysis.

Asbestos Contact Evolution

By age group, the recent report also shows that mesothelioma deaths increased among persons aged 85-plus, and decreased in persons aged 35 to 64 years-old. The ongoing occurrence of mesothelioma deaths among persons under 55 years-old suggests continued occupational and environmental exposures to asbestos fibers, and "other elongated mineral particles," despite the regulatory measures enacted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency. The OSHA standards, for example, proscribe safety measures, such as, using wet methods, exhaust ventilation, respirators and vacuum cleaners with high efficiency air filters while performing asbestos work in order to limit asbestos exposure and protect workers.

According to the new CDC data, such safety measures might not be enough. The CDC stresses the need to monitor and understand trends among younger populations who may come into contact with asbestos under new circumstances. For example, the report explains that although most deaths from malignant mesothelioma in the United States are the result of asbestos exposures from 20-to-40 years earlier, new cases might result from occupational exposure to asbestos fibers during "maintenance activities, demolition and remediation of existing asbestos in structures, installations, and buildings if controls are insufficient to protect workers." The CDC data highlights the need to be diligent in preventative and surveillance safety measures.

For more information contact Robert Brownson, Kristi Brownson, or Thomas Norby.

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