Maine Tops Nation with Highest Asbestos Death Rate
If Confirmed to Supreme Court, Kavanaugh Could Be Key Vote in Keeping Asbestos Legal
Relative to its population, more residents of Maine die each year from asbestos-triggered diseases than any other state in the country, according to an analysis by EWG Action Fund. Asbestos-triggered diseases cause 10.1 deaths out of every 100,000 in Maine – a mortality rate higher than any other state. The nationwide average is dramatically lower at 4.9 deaths per 100,00...
Relative to its population, more residents of Maine die each year from asbestos-triggered diseases than any other state in the country, according to an analysis by EWG Action Fund.
Asbestos-triggered diseases cause 10.1 deaths out of every 100,000 in Maine – a mortality rate higher than any other state. The nationwide average is dramatically lower at 4.9 deaths per 100,000. Further, the analysis shows more than 2,000 residents of Maine died from mesothelioma, asbestosis, and asbestos-related lung cancer between 1999 and 2013.
Several counties in Maine have annual mortality rates from asbestos far higher than the state’s own outsized average, including:
Sagadahoc County: 37.8 deaths per 100,000
Lincoln County: 32.0 deaths per 100,000
Washington County: 18.2 deaths per 100,000
Piscataquis County: 16.8 deaths per 100,000
Waldo County: 15.2 deaths per 100,000
The analysis combines the most recent (2013) federal records of deaths from mesothelioma and asbestosis from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with a formula developed by international cancer researchers with the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) for estimating lung cancer deaths from asbestos.
Asbestos use in the United States has declined significantly since the late 1970s after the associated serious health risks became clear. It is difficult to determine what the main sources of exposure to the deadly fiber are for residents of Maine. However, asbestos was once widely used in a number of industries and professions prominent in Maine and throughout New England, including shipbuilding, manufacturing and milling.
Maine’s Bath Iron Works, which currently employees roughly 6,000 people, once relied heavily on asbestos in the ships the company made for the Navy during and after Word War II, which was one of the primary workplace exposures for the tens of thousands of employees who worked there during much of the 20th Century.
The latency period for asbestos-related diseases can be long, with most patients becoming ill and receiving diagnoses as many as twenty, thirty, or forty years after exposure. In turn, patients who develop asbestos-related diseases today were often exposed to the fiber a generation ago. Industry documents show that, during this time, the asbestos industry was fully aware of the dangers of working with and handling asbestos, but companies failed to warn workers and protect them from the long-term health risks.
Despite the danger to public health, asbestos is still legal in the United States. New research shows that up to 40,000 Americans die annually from asbestos-caused diseases.
Asbestos-related death rates have not decreased despite a significant reduction in asbestos use over the last few decades. There are a few likely explanations for this trend. First, though the United States no longer produces asbestos, millions of pounds of asbestos and asbestos-containing products are imported into the country every year. Second, asbestos can still be found in buildings, schools, and homes throughout the country. In fact, buildings constructed before 1980 almost certainly contain materials made with asbestos. As a result, asbestos products remain a potential source of exposure in Maine and other states and communities across the country.
Certain populations of the United States face an especially high risk of asbestos exposure and death from asbestos-related disease. One group of Americans disproportionately impacted by asbestos-related diseases is our nation’s veterans. Members of the armed services, particularly the U.S. Navy, faced asbestos exposure for decades due to the military’s extensive use of the fiber in ships, buildings, and other military equipment. Though veterans make up approximately 8 percent of the U.S. population, they account for roughly 30 percent of all mesothelioma deaths. Additionally, studies from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) show teachers and firefighters are twice as likely to die from mesothelioma as the general public. Construction workers are also at a heightened risk.
It may come as a surprise to many, but asbestos remains legal and it is still imported and used in the U.S. In 2016, Congress passed legislation signed into law by then-President Obama that finally gave the federal Environmental Protection Agency the authority to ban the deadly substance. However, President Trump’s political appointees at EPA have not yet taken steps to ban asbestos and have limited their safety assessment so dramatically that it’s unlikely the agency will move for a ban.
The decision not to ban asbestos could certainly find its way before the Supreme Court. Brett Kavanaugh, who is President Trump’s pick to fill the fifth seat on the high court, has a troubling history of siding with the chemical industry and big polluters as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
EWG Action Fund is a 501(c)(4) organization that is a separate sister organization of the Environmental Working Group. The mission of EWG Action Fund is to protect health and the environment by educating the public and lobbying on a wide range of environmental issues. Donations to EWG Action Fund are not tax-deductible.