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October 21, 2013
NIOSH says too many lives still lost to asbestos exposure

A new National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) study found that asbestos exposure is robbing Americans of hundreds of thousands of years of productive life. Keep reading to learn more about this still-significant workplace hazard.

Research published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine found that more than 427,000 years were lost from 1999 to 2010 due to early deaths from mesothelioma and asbestosis. These are the two most deadly diseases caused by exposure to asbestos. Because asbestos was once a common element in building and insulation products, both diseases continue to be threats for those who have worked in construction or industrial settings.

NIOSH researchers found that life years lost to mesothelioma and asbestosis changed little between 1999 and 2010 despite strict government guidelines for using and handling asbestos. The researchers concluded that despite improved treatments and diagnostic tools, trends in these diseases should continue to be carefully monitored.

Mesothelioma, which kills an estimated 2,500 people in the United States each year, is an aggressive cancer that spreads across internal body membranes and is highly resistant to standard treatment. Asbestosis is a form of lung scarring caused by exposure to microscopic shards of asbestos.

Know the facts about workplace asbestos exposure

  • According to OSHA, there is no safe level of exposure for any type of asbestos fiber.
  • Asbestos exposure as short in duration as a few days has caused mesothelioma.
  • Where there is exposure, employers are required to protect workers by establishing regulated areas, controlling work practices, and instituting engineering controls to reduce airborne levels.
  • Employers are also required to use administrative controls and provide for personal protective equipment.
  • Medical monitoring is required when legal limits and exposure times are exceeded.

Exposure to asbestos hazards is addressed in specific OSHA standards for the construction industry, general industry, and shipyard employment. Airborne levels of asbestos are never to exceed legal worker exposure limits.

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