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10,000 dying each year; organizations urge worldwide asbestos ban

In the U.S. alone, it is estimated that as many as 10,000 people die every year from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses. Worldwide, that number is as high as 107,000. Asbestos is so toxic that 60 countries have banned its use -- but not the United States.

To challenge that position by the U.S. and the remaining countries that have not banned the substance, a statement was published this month in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, a peer-reviewed publication on the interrelationships between the environment and human health. In the statement, the international Joint Policy Committee of the Societies of Epidemiology is again urging the passage of a worldwide ban on asbestos.

The Joint Policy Committee is an international consortium of epidemiologic organizations, and it is backed by a number of major public health organizations worldwide. Pointing out the fact that there is no scientific controversy about the dangers of asbestos exposure, the group called the continued use of the substance -- particularly in developing countries -- a "case of global environmental injustice on a massive scale."

The first U.S. lawsuit over an asbestos-related illness was filed in 1929. Since then, scientists have confirmed that the substance causes mesothelioma, lung cancer and several other deadly respiratory illnesses and cancers. Asbestos was considered save until the 1970s so it was ubiquitous -- and still is in many products sold in the United States. Since the symptoms of an asbestos-related disease can take decades, sick and dying people often find it challenging to trace the cause of their illness to a particular asbestos-laden product or even a single manufacturer.

Despite decades of confirmed science about the dangers of asbestos, the number of people diagnosed with asbestos-related diseases continues to rise. The International Ban Asbestos Secretariat 2012 succeeded in prohibiting the use of asbestos in much of the developing world, but it is still being used around the globe and in the U.S.

The job of an epidemiologist is to determine what public health issues could lead to large numbers of illnesses and deaths. When a worldwide group of epidemiologists urge us to ban asbestos altogether, shouldn't we listen?

Source: Environmental Health Perspectives, "The JPC-SE Position Statement on Asbestos: A Long-Overdue Appeal by Epidemiologists to Ban Asbestos Worldwide and End Related Global Environmental Injustice," Wael K. Al-Delaimy, May 1, 2013

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