Number of annual mesothelioma deaths on the rise

Malignant mesothelioma is a disease often contracted from occupational exposure to asbestos. The latency period for the disease is approximately 20 to 40 years, sometimes as long as 71 years. Therefore, despite increased regulation of asbestos, more North Carolinians are discovering that they have mesothelioma due to their exposure to asbestos decades earlier.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), during 1995-2015, there were 45,221 deaths from malignant mesotheliomas in the U.S. with an increase from 2,479 deaths in 1999, to 2,597 deaths in 2015. The CDC found that while the number of malignant mesothelioma deaths in people 35-64 years old decreased, there were 16,914 deaths among people aged 75-84 years old — people who likely just began to show mesothelioma symptoms from exposure many years ago.

Among 207 industries and 274 occupations, 11 industries and 17 occupations significantly elevated proportionate mortality ratios (PMRs). The highest PMRs by industry were for ship and boat building and repairing, petroleum refining and industrial chemicals. The highest PMRs by occupation were insulation workers, chemical technicians, pipelayers, plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters. These industries and occupations exposed workers to asbestos-containing materials, such as asbestos cement pipes, asbestos cement sheets, architectural panels, built-up roofing and asbestos insulation.

During the 20th century, the construction industry was responsible for 70 to 80 percent of asbestos consumption. It is therefore not surprising that the construction industry has been a major contributor to mesothelioma mortality. In years to come, it is expected that those who perform maintenance operations, demolition and remediation of older buildings containing asbestos are in danger of contracting the disease. The CDC states that the persistence of deaths attributable to mesothelioma underscores the need for preventative measures and ongoing surveillance.