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Written By: Michelle Whitmer,
Last modified: August 20, 2021

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.

Types of Asbestos

The term asbestos refers to six fibrous minerals that occur naturally throughout the world.

  • Chrysotile
  • Tremolite
  • Crocidolite
  • Amosite
  • Actinolite
  • Anthophyllite

The most widely used type of asbestos is chrysotile. It accounts for approximately 95 percent of asbestos used around the world.

Asbestos fibers are naturally resistant to heat, fire, electricity and chemicals. These properties made it an ideal additive in products to prevent fire and chemical corrosion.

Who Is at Risk of Asbestos Exposure?

People who worked with asbestos products are the most at risk of exposure. Occupations that presented the greatest risk of asbestos exposure include:

  • Miners
  • Millers
  • Insulators
  • Boilermakers
  • Auto mechanics
  • Electricians
  • Plumbers
  • Firefighters
  • Construction workers
  • Industrial workers
  • Shipyard workers
  • Power plant workers

Anyone who lived with an asbestos worker was at risk of secondary exposure. This kind of exposure happened to many household members of asbestos workers. Washing the worker’s clothing was a particularly common source of secondary exposure.

Diseases Caused by Asbestos Exposure

Countless scientific studies have proven exposure to asbestos causes cancerous and noncancerous diseases.

Asbestos-Related Cancers

  • Mesothelioma
  • Lung cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Laryngeal cancer

Noncancerous Conditions

  • Asbestosis
  • Pleural plaques
  • Pleural effusions
  • Pleuritis
  • Diffuse pleural thickening
  • Atelectasis
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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.
  • 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.

Asbestos-Related Disease Statistics

Statistics on asbestos-caused diseases uncover an epidemic of tragic proportions. Thousands of Americans are diagnosed with asbestos-related conditions each year. Hundreds of thousands of people are diagnosed with these conditions around the globe.

  • Around 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year.
  • Asbestos exposure causes at least 90 percent of all mesothelioma cases.
  • From 1999-2010, approximately 6,300 Americans lost their lives to asbestosis.

Asbestos-Related Death Statistics

Out of all the conditions, asbestos-related lung cancer claims the most lives, followed by mesothelioma.

  • A study published in 2017 claimed the annual global death rate caused by asbestos exposure is around 237,000.
  • A 2018 study reported asbestos-related diseases killed 39,275 people in the U.S. and 222,321 people throughout the world in 2016.
Disease Number of U.S. Deaths in 2016 Number of Global Deaths in 2016
Lung Cancer 34,270 181,450
Mesothelioma 3,161 27,600
Ovarian Cancer 787 6,022
Laryngeal Cancer 443 3,743
Asbestosis 613 3,495

Despite these shocking statistics, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced in June 2018 it would consider new uses of asbestos with a specific review process. Organizations around the world, such as the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, continue to advocate for a worldwide ban to protect future generations from asbestos-related diseases.


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