Mortality Among Asbestos Removal Workers

The dangers of asbestos are shifting. Since scientific and medical recognition of asbestos as a class one carcinogen, most countries have instilled laws and regulations banning its mining, manufacturing, and importation. Thousands of products have been identified as asbestos-containing, and treated as toxic materials. In efforts to protect public health, countries around the globe have called for the removal of such asbestos-containing materials.

Asbestos was used primarily in the construction, automotive, shipyard, and manufacturing industries. Because of its unique fire and friction resistant properties, and because of its durability, low-cost, and lack of chemical and biological degradation, asbestos was used in many insulating, roofing, ceiling, fire-proofing, and cement materials.

It’s latency period of 20 to 50 years means that it is only in recent decades that those workers exposed to asbestos are developing related diseases, such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer. Fortunately, through the prohibition of asbestos and regulation of its exposure, we are on our way to ridding the planet of this life-threatening hazard. However, as asbestos-containing materials are identified and disposed of, the dangers of exposure now fall onto those whose are paid to remove it.

Mesothelioma attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm warn those involved in the asbestos-removal industry that, even in climate of low-exposure, health risks are still a serious danger.

A recent study by the British Journal of Cancer examined the early indications of mortality among 31,302 removal workers. The key tasks involved in asbestos removal include preparing the work area, removing the substance, bagging the debris, and cleaning up the site area. These workers therefore cause severe disruption to the fibers and come into contact with various forms. Working practices, including removal techniques and personal protective equipment, have been developed to reduce the exposure of workers to asbestos. It has even been suggested that the stripping/removal industry has become so over-regulated that workers are unlikely to experience elevated exposure to airborne asbestos.

In the study, 31,302 workers were administered about 19 intermittent examinations between 1971 and 2005. Among the removal workers there were 985 deaths including 384 cancers, 115 lung cancers, and 23 mesotheliomas. Statistically significant excesses of deaths from all causes, all cancers, and cancers of the rectum, larynx, lung, peritoneum, pleura and kidney, and mesothelioma were observed. There were also significant excesses of deaths from circulatory disease, cerebrovascular disease, respiratory disease and asbestosis.

The majority of participants (nearly 60%) spent, on average, more than 10 h a week in the stripping enclosure. As the number of hours spent in the stripping enclosure increased, the proportion of current smokers also increased. There was a significant increase in risk for workers who spent more than 40 h as compared with less than 10 h a week in the enclosure for all causes, circulatory disease and ischaemic heart disease The majority of workers (43%) were 20-29 years of age when first exposed to asbestos, and most (80%) were first occupationally exposed to asbestos after the introduction of regulation laws.

There was a trend of increasing risk of mortality as the number of hours spent in the stripping enclosure increased. Spending a large number of hours per week in a stripping enclosure exposes workers not only to more asbestos fibers, but also to risk factors associated with working long hours. In particular, high stress because of work demands may increase negative behaviors such as physical inactivity, poor diet, and tobacco and alcohol use.

With changes in legislation and attitudes towards asbestos usage, the emphasis is now being placed on investigating how effective new regulations and procedures are at reducing the risks associated with occupations in the asbestos industry. There was no evidence that any particular method of dust suppression during asbestos removal was associated with reduced mortality. A link was suggested between the number of hours spent in the stripping enclosure and smoking status. In addition, the risk of mortality increased as the number of hours spent removing asbestos increased. This study is a first step in assessing the mortality of asbestos removal workers and further follow-up should allow assessment of the efficiency of recent regulations in this respect.

This study is one step forward in proving without doubt that ANY exposure to asbestos causes premature illness and death. If you were exposed to asbestos at any point and developed a related illness, contact an asbestos attorney today to discuss your legal rights and potential claim.