Health effects of asbestos and general statistics of asbestos

More than 39,000 American lives are lost to asbestos-related disease every year. Asbestos facts and statistics summarize the devastating impact the toxic mineral has had in the U.S. and around the world.

Asbestos Facts

Decades of research has proven exposure to asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral, causes cancer and other serious diseases. Knowing key asbestos statistics can help you understand the health risks and why it is so important to avoid asbestos exposure.

Asbestos served a central role in American commercial product manufacturing throughout the 20th century. It was used in thousands of products before regulations were implemented in the 1970s.

Americans who worked in construction, manufacturing and other blue-collar industries were most at risk of asbestos exposure. Research shows approximately 20 percent of asbestos workers develop a related disease later in life.

Exposure Facts

  • Asbestos has been banned in more than 60 countries, but not in the U.S.
  • Asbestos exposure is the No. 1 cause of work-related deaths in the world.
  • Approximately 90,000 people die from asbestos-related diseases globally each year.
  • An estimated 125 million people worldwide remain at risk of occupational exposure to asbestos.
  • About 1.3 million U.S. workers in construction and general industry are at risk of exposure today.

Asbestos Statistics

Learning more about asbestos statistics paints a realistic picture about the devastating impacts of asbestos exposure and its related diseases.

While there has been a fall in asbestos production throughout the world, certain countries — including the U.S. — have significantly increased importation of asbestos. Asbestos lobbying organizations play a major role in keeping asbestos trade alive.

  • Global asbestos production fell from 2.1 million tons in 2012 to 1.4 million tons in 2015.
  • Asbestos imports have fluxuated, but there is an upward trend in recent years. In 2020, the U.S. imported nearly double the amount of asbestos that was imported in 2019. In 2018, the U.S. chemical industry quadrupled its importation of asbestos compared to the year before.
  • A 2018 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health reported that for every 20 tons of asbestos produced and consumed a person dies of an asbestos-related disease somewhere in the world.
  • More than 2 million tons of asbestos is currently consumed each year throughout the world.

Asbestos Exposure Studies

Exposure studies reveal a lot about the health effects of asbestos including who may be at risk of developing an asbestos-related disease. These exposure studies focus on specific types of asbestos work. They uncovered how much exposure translates into cases of disease among the workers.

For example, insulators are among the most studied population of asbestos workers because exposure levels were high in this field of work. Studying asbestos insulators tells us a lot about what can happen when a person is exposed to high levels of asbestos for years.

  • A 1990 study published in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences reported on insulation workers with 20 years of experience. More than 80 percent developed asbestosis and 40 percent died of asbestos-related diseases.

Some exposure studies have evaluated the risk of disease among people who live in a contaminated area. For example, studies have been conducted on Libby, Montana. The town is home to an asbestos-contaminated vermiculite mine that closed in 1990.

  • A 2013 study by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences found 18 to 20 percent of adult residents in Libby have asbestos-related disease.
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