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International Epidemiology Panel Predicts Public Health Disaster of Asbestos-Related Disease

Exposed to Asbestos - Mesothelioma

A committee of scientists from 13 epidemiology societies issued a statement this week calling for a global ban on mining, use and export of asbestos. The Joint Policy Committee of the Societies of Epidemiology put forward a position statement laying out clear evidence that all forms of asbestos cause mesothelioma, lung cancer and other diseases.

“Continued use of asbestos will lead to a public health disaster of asbestos-related illness and premature death for decades to come, repeating the epidemic we are witnessing today in industrialized countries that used asbestos in the past,” Dr. Stanley Weiss, chair of the Joint Policy Committee said in a statement.

The Joint Policy Committee coordinates policy actions among 13 U.S., Canadian and international epidemiology societies. The group’s 25-page statement details the latest scientific evidence about asbestos and expressed “grave concern” that the governments of Brazil, Canada, China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam are putting their own citizens and others in peril by allowing asbestos mining.

Weiss said the committee considered it to be critically important to support the objective scientific evidence that all use of asbestos should stop. Most industrialized countries have ceased or sharply curtailed use of asbestos and more than 50 countries have passed laws banning its use. Consequently, the asbestos industry is working to establish new markets by promoting the use of asbestos in low to moderate income nations, which have weaker worker safety laws. Many of these countries are unaware of the health hazards posed by asbestos. The proportion of asbestos used in Asia has increased sharply.

“We call specifically on the major asbestos exporting countries—Brazil, Canada, Kazakhstan and Russia to respect the right to health by ceasing the mining, use and export of asbestos, and providing transition assistance to their asbestos-mining communities,” said Dr. Robert Hiatt, representing the American College of Epidemiology.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 107,000 people die each year from mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis caused by workplace exposure to asbestos. Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the chest cavity and abdominal cavity caused by inhaling asbestos. One in every three deaths from occupational cancer is estimated to be caused by asbestos.

In the United States, approximately 2,500 to 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma each year. Most are older workers, retired workers and veterans who were exposed to asbestos in a workplace.

The symptoms of asbestos disease typically take 20 years to 50 years to appear. But once the disease develops, it advances aggressively. Mesothelioma is incurable, but there are treatments to control the disease if it is diagnosed at an early stage.

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