We know that asbestos is a carcinogen. It is often the cause of diseases such as lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma. So, do asbestos bans reduce the odds that people will develop these diseases?
This is an important question to ask as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers a new asbestos ban. It’s also harder to answer than you might expect. Asbestos-related diseases often feature long latency periods. People can live for years or decades after their asbestos exposure before they develop their diseases, and this can make it hard to collect key data.
What does the research say?
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) is a peer-reviewed journal with top credentials. In August, 2021, JAMA published a study of global mesothelioma trends.
The first news from the study wasn’t good. It looked at data for 195 countries and found:
- Mesothelioma diagnoses were on the rise globally between 1990 and 2017
- The most developed nations were responsible for more than half of all mesothelioma diagnoses
- In recent years, mesothelioma death rates have increased in less well-developed nations, especially among women
However, the study also made it clear that this continued rise was largely to the long latency periods for asbestos-related diseases. Mesothelioma cases could continue to rise after a ban, but not forever. The study’s authors suggested the number of mesothelioma cases begin to drop roughly 20 years after the introduction of a ban.
Specifically, the study cited Italy’s ban on asbestos. The ban took effect in 1992. Italian mesothelioma cases continued to rise until their peak in 2015. However, from 2015 to 2017, mesothelioma diagnoses dropped by 4%. Though 2017 was the most recent year included in the study, you can only expect that cases will continue to drop.
It’s time for the ban
Although it’s already a rare form of cancer, mesothelioma could and should be rarer still. A full ban on asbestos would eventually eliminate the disease’s main cause. Still, it’s not yet certain whether the EPA will go ahead with its proposed ban. The companies that use asbestos have fought against past bans, blocking their progress with lawmakers or overturning them in court. Now, there’s every sign that the chlor-alkali industry will ignore the science and fight the EPA’s current proposal.
Asbestos bans save lives. They don’t take effect immediately, but they remove a slow killer from the environment. That means mesothelioma rates drop over time. If an asbestos ban can prevent people from dying and families from suffering, then the ban is long overdue. It’s time for the ban.