Studies in Australia and Spain indicate that mesothelioma rates around the world are likely to continue staying high, and even increase, over the next decade or two. Because the disease often does not appear until some 40 years after exposure to asbestos, the bans many countries put in place in the last decade will not stop the disease from continuing to be a problem until the last exposed victims have died off — probably around 2030 or 2040.
Looking at the incidence of mesothelioma in developed countries, the Baird Institute for Applied Heart and Lung Surgical Research out of Australia found that the impact of mesothelioma varied widely from country to country. The highest rates of mesothelioma are in Australia and the UK — around 30 per million. However, the rates may be even higher in underdeveloped countries where asbestos is common, but poor reporting and frequent under reporting means it is not possible to get an accurate picture of mesothelioma mortality there.
Since asbestos exposure is primarily an occupational hazard, the Baird report confirms that it is primarily a disease that affects men. Still, the number of mesothelioma patients who were exposed as a result of do-it-yourself renovations is on the rise, as is the number of women who contracted it after being exposed to asbestos from their spouse’s work clothes.
Despite the lack of a comprehensive US ban, the Baird Institute found that the mesothelioma rate in the US appears to have peaked around 2005 and is now declining. However, it will persist in the US for a very long time — they estimate there will be some 85,000 mesothelioma cases in the US in the first half of the 21st century. The rest of the developed world, such as Italy, Australia, the UK, and Japan, won’t see mesothelioma rates peak until 2030.
A second study that looked at mesothelioma rates in Spain found similar results there. Spain was a heavy asbestos user in the early 20th century. As was the case all over the world, Spaniards prized asbestos’ low cost, durability, corrosion resistance, and fireproof quality. It wasn’t until 2002 that Spain enacted a comprehensive asbestos ban.
Unfortunately, by 2002 Spain had imported over 2.5 million metric tons of the fine-fibered deadly mineral, and deaths have risen steadily. In the 5 year period ending in 1980, Spain saw 491 mesothelioma deaths. That number more than doubled to 1249 by the five year period ending 2010, and the trend is likely to continue — the researchers forecast 1319 deaths for the 5-year period ending 2020.
There was some good news. Due to building projects using less and less asbestos after 1960, the male mortality rate from 2001 to 2005 seemed to level off. And, for women, the risk was notably lower — female mesothelioma patients had generally been exposed through a spouse’s working clothes, or as a result of living around asbestos dust.
Nevertheless it is still discouraging to note that Spain will continue seeing mesothelioma deaths until around 2040, at which point the last person who has been exposed to asbestos on the job will have died. This is consistent with mesothelioma cases all over the developed world peaking around the year 2030.
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