According to research conducted by the University of Occupational and Environmental Health, more than 125 million people around the world come into contact with asbestos on the job each year.
This carcinogen causes over 90,000 yearly fatalities, and incidence rates are far higher in industrialized countries.
A 2011 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives noted that between 1920 and 1970, over 65 million metric tons of asbestos were used by a total of 89 countries. Only 56 of these countries tracked mortality rates from asbestos-related diseases. In the countries that provided incidence data, more than 174,000 people had developed malignant mesothelioma between 1994 and 2008. Because 33 countries did not collect any data, researchers projected that one of every four to five worldwide mesothelioma cases went unreported during this time span. Conservative estimates indicate that as many as 39,000 cases may have occurred in these countries.
Asbestos was highly regarded as an inexpensive insulator and was popular in a number of industrial operations. Thousands of items containing the mineral were distributed to factories, offices and homes worldwide. Workers who were responsible for mining and processing asbestos, incorporating it into finished products, or operating and repairing machinery with asbestos-containing parts were often exposed to the fibers. A large percentage of these laborers eventually developed an illness as the direct result of this occupational exposure.
Although several regions have developed asbestos regulations and bans, many other developing countries still utilize the mineral for industrial purposes. Downward trends were typically not the direct result of these bans, but a reduction in global asbestos use did begin as restrictions and economic disincentives were enacted. Northern European countries enacted the first bans on asbestos use in the 1980s and several other areas followed, yet the terms set by each restriction varied from country to country.
Even after the turn of the century, many Eastern and Southern European countries increased their usage of the mineral. Sustained use in China and India indicates that industrializing countries continue to utilize asbestos, raising a great deal of concern about the future mesothelioma mortality rates in these areas.
The only sure way to prevent mesothelioma is to avoid contact with asbestos. As a result, researchers and advocates are strongly advocating complete global asbestos bans and a zero-use policy.