According to the National Cancer Institute only 5% of cancers are caused by genetics. The remaining 95% of the cancer diagnoses are dependent on choices we make every day, such as food selection, smoking decisions, sun exposure and exercise habits. Medical experts report that by making lifestyle changes Americans can improve their quality of life and can largely eliminate their likelihood of developing cancer. Exposure to environmental hazards, however, also determines whether someone will contract cancer. But for the close to 3,000 Americans diagnosed with mesothelioma each year, prevention of the disease is not an option as they were often unwittingly exposed to asbestos, a toxic mineral, years ago as they worked for a living.
Most cases of mesothelioma, a deadly form of cancer, are diagnosed 30 years or more after exposure to asbestos, with the latency or incubation period sometimes being as long as 50 years. While many uses for asbestos were banned in the mid-1970’s, the effects of the mineral continues to be a threat to workers exposed through their occupations and in buildings that were erected or renovated prior to the ban. Most at-risk for the disease are trade workers who inhaled asbestos fibers in the workplace or Navy veterans exposed to asbestos in ships.
No Safe Level of Asbestos Exposure
The health risks of asbestos have been thrust back into the spotlight on the heels of the announcement that Quebec will not only resume mining of asbestos, but will also export the mineral to developing countries where safe handling requirements are not in place. Production at the Jeffrey Mine could result in the mine eventually producing up to 225,000 tons of chrysotile asbestos per year.
The International Mesothelioma Interest Group (IMIG) stated in March that it “deeply regrets that the Quebec Government has provided the loan guarantee that enables resumption of asbestos mining in Canada.” They contend that all types of asbestos have demonstrated their ability to cause asbestos-related diseases. Formed to improve communication and collaboration among workers interested in mesothelioma, the IMIG reiterated their long-standing position, “there is no safe use of asbestos.”
Philip Landrigan, Dean of Global Health at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, agrees with IMIG and stated in a letter to Quebec Premier Jean Charest in an attempt to halt reopening the Jeffrey Mine that “there is no safe exposure level [of asbestos]. It goes on killing for generations.”
Time to End Asbestos Use
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), asbestos causes approximately half of all deaths from occupational cancer. 125 million people worldwide are exposed to asbestos in the workplace. In addition, they estimate 90,000 people die each year from asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis.
The tragedy of mesothelioma is that the disease is completely preventable through the ban of asbestos. Unfortunately, this is not at a choice that an individual has control over, as it is often made at the government level. Advocates for mesothelioma patients continue to call for a ban of asbestos as the only way to halt mesothelioma.
For more information please check our New York Mesothelioma Resources page.