Mesothelioma Mortality Rates and a Global Asbestos Ban

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Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive form of cancer that is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral that is toxic to humans.

According to the World Health Organization, 125 million people around the world are exposed to asbestos while at work each year, leading to the death of an estimated 90,000 people globally from asbestos-related diseases.

In the study “Recent Mortality from Pleural Mesothelioma, Historical Patterns of Asbestos Use, and Adoptions of Bans: A Global Assessment,” researchers tracked the general asbestos exposure levels of populations and compared them to the health effects.

By tracking population data and comparing it to the mortality rates from asbestos-related diseases such as malignant mesothelioma, researchers are able to evaluate trends in countries around the world without a complete ban on asbestos.

In 1983 Iceland was the first country to adopt a complete national ban on asbestos. A large contingent of European countries quickly followed suit, including Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Austria. Countries in this early-ban group recorded a reduction rate of 8.3 percent/year in the incidence of asbestos-related diseases, about twice as fast as the late-ban groups.

Once the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) listed asbestos as a known human carcinogen, the precedent was set to enact a global ban on asbestos. However, despite the bans enacted in many countries, the level of asbestos use has not reached absolute zero. Numerous countries who have not adopted the ban continue to have high levels of asbestos use and show little signs of decreasing.

The results of the study further reinforced the belief that heavy asbestos use has shifted to emerging industrializing countries. The corresponding medical risks can be expected to arise in these countries at the same pace that has been seen in Europe and the Americas.

Mortality trends from asbestos exposure around the world follow a linear path with historical use trends. Researchers in this study found the latency level of asbestos and the deadly diseases it causes can be best predicted at 22.5 years.

The study concluded that there is no safe threshold for asbestos exposure. The current attempts by countries have not reduced exposure to an acceptable level nor has it controlled the risk to populations. It is proven that countries that have implemented national bans on asbestos have reduced their levels twice as fast as countries that have not.


Joining the team in February 2008 as a writer and editor, Michelle Whitmer has translated medical jargon into patient-friendly information at Asbestos.com for more than eight years. Michelle is a registered yoga teacher, a member of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine, and was quoted by The New York Times on the risks of asbestos exposure. If you have a story idea for Michelle, please email her at michelle@asbestos.com.

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