According to a new United Nations (UN) report, 1/3 of the 900 Million people living in Europe are exposed to asbestos at work and elsewhere. The report also states that asbestos is to blame for 1/2 of all deaths from cancers developed at work in Europe. New estimates indicate that mesothelioma deaths have cost 1.5 Billion euros annually in 15 European countries.
The UN presented the report in Haifa, Israel, during a meeting where more than 200 delegates met April 28–30, 2015, to discuss the environment and health in Europe.
“We cannot afford [to lose] almost 15,000 lives a year in Europe, especially workers, from diseases caused by exposure to asbestos,” Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, the World Health Organization’s Regional Director for Europe, stated in a recent press release.
Exposure to asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma, an aggressive and deadly form of cancer that affects the lungs, abdomen, or heart. Symptoms often include shortness of breath, painful coughing, and fatigue.
UN Calls for Urgent Action
“While 37 of the 53 member states in the region have banned the use of all forms of asbestos, the remaining 16 countries still use asbestos, especially for building materials, and some continue to produce and export it,” according to the UN report. “Even after its use has ceased, asbestos lingers in the environment, so it needs to be safely removed and disposed [of] without delay.”
The UN is urgently calling on all European countries to eliminate asbestos across the region.
Workplace Asbestos Exposure in the U.S.
Although asbestos use is now highly regulated in the U.S., it is still legal. Prior to 1980, asbestos exposure was relatively common in the workplace—with people working at some jobs being at higher risk. Occupations that required people to work in close proximity to and actually handle asbestos-containing products, such as car brake pads, wallboard, and insulation, were just a few of the most dangerous jobs.
High-risk occupations include:
- Auto mechanics
- Construction workers
- Oil refinery workers
- Plumbers & pipefitters
- Railroad workers
- Shipyard workers
- Steel mill workers
- Welders & foundry workers
It takes only 1 inhaled asbestos fiber to cause mesothelioma, and with so many potential sources of repeated exposure in a work environment, it’s understandable why people working in some occupations are at higher risk than others.
Mesothelioma often takes a long time to develop—as much as 20–50 years. That means workers who were exposed decades ago may just now be receiving a diagnosis.
If you or a family member has worked in any of these jobs over the past several decades and have experienced symptoms that include a persistent cough, getting winded easily, and fatigue, schedule a visit with your doctor immediately. And be sure to tell your doctor about your exposure to asbestos. If you have mesothelioma, the sooner you get diagnosed the sooner you can get treatment to extend your life.