Nearly 3 million years of life have been lost to the asbestos-related diseases mesothelioma and asbestosis since 1994, according to the World Health Organization.
An analysis of WHO data carried out by researchers in Japan and Indonesia found that 2.8 million potential years of life had been lost to malignant mesothelioma worldwide between 1994 and 2010. Another 180,000 life years were lost asbestosis. “We applied the well-established, but rather under-utilized, indicator of Potential Years of Life Lost (PYLL) to estimate the global burden of mesothelioma and asbestosis,” the researchers explain in a recent issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.
Both mesothelioma and asbestosis are caused by prolonged exposure to asbestos fibers, usually in a work setting. Asbestos was once a popular component of insulation and building materials around the world. Workers who inadvertently breathed it in or ingested it dramatically increased their risk for developing mesothelioma or asbestosis even decades later. Although many countries banned the substance after its link to mesothelioma, asbestosis and other diseases became evident, other countries continue to mine, export and use asbestos, putting hundreds of thousands of people at risk.
The WHO data shows that mesothelioma is one of the world’s most deadly industrial diseases, having claimed the lives of 128,015 people in 82 countries during the study period. Each mesothelioma victim is believed to have lost an average of 17 years of life. The figures for asbestosis were evaluated for 55 countries. In those countries, more than 13,800 people lost their lives to asbestosis during the study period, each of them losing an average estimated 13 years of life.
The authors conclude that the current worldwide burden of asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma and asbestosis is substantial but point out that the solution is simple; “The future burden of asbestos-related diseases can be eliminated by stopping the use of asbestos,” they write. Medical experts around the world continue to vehemently oppose the use of asbestos, which has also been linked to lung cancer, pleural plaques, emphysema, and autoimmune disorders. In the U.S., mesothelioma alone kills as estimated 2,500 people a year.
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Three Million ‘Life Years’ Lost to Asbestos