Trouble in The Air

Senate Bill Grants Immunity To Asbestos Companies and Cuts Assistance To Terminally-Ill Asbestos Victims

April 25, 2005

Trouble in The Air: Methodology

In March 2004, EWG published estimates of 10,000 deaths from asbestos disease per year, with projected increases in this total for about the next decade. This estimate was based on two peer-reviewed estimates of mesothelioma mortality in Great Britain, and Australia (Treasure 2004, Leigh 2003), countries with similar asbestos use and regulatory histories as the United States, combined with EWG's analysis of data from the National Center for Health Statistics on asbestos mortality that showed a clear upward trend in death over the past ten years from the two signature asbestos diseases, asbestosis and metothelioma.

To estimate future mortality, EWG, at that time, assumed a modest growth rate in asbestosis and mesothelioma mortality over the next ten years that was just half the rate of increase observed from 1990-1998. Projecting this growth rate over the next ten years we estimate 46,600 deaths from asbestosis and mesothelioma from 2005 through 2014, with 1,903 asbestosis deaths and 3,170 mesothelioma fatalities in 2015.

Experts agree that there will be tens of thousands of mesothelioma deaths over the 28 year life of the proposed national asbestos trust fund. Testifying before the United States Senate in the summer of 2003, one specialist predicted between 43,000 to 70,000 mesothelioma deaths over the 28 year life of the proposed federal asbestos trust fund, as well as up to 240,000 total cancer cases, and up to 1.6 million compensated non-cancer claims (Peterson, 2003).

No one has suggested that 28 years after the creation of the fund mesothelioma cases will suddenly stop. Clearly these deaths will continue, particularly given the fact that asbestos is still legal and that remediation efforts continue to be conducted in an extremely hazardous fashion, exposing thousands of workers a year to large amounts of asbestos dust.

Few, however, have made mortality estimates beyond the termination date of the proposed fund, even though medical experts agree that mesothelioma has a latency period in some individuals of 50 years or more, and exposure that begins today can produce these cancers multiple decades into the future.

The estimate here of 113,000 mesothelioma cases over the next 50 years is built directly on the analysis published in March 2004. We assume that the peak of mortality is reached in 2015, ten years from now, that that there is a steady decline therafter for the next 40 years.

The rates in our projections are as follows:

  • 2003 through 2013 — An increase at 50 percent the rate seen from 1990 through 1998, or 1.75 percent per year.
  • 2014 - 2015 — An increase of 0.8 percent
  • 2016 — A decrease of 0.8 percent
  • 2017 through 2030 — A decrease of 2% per year
  • 2032 through 2055 — A decrease of 3% per year

Different assumptions will yield different results. It is not credible, however, to assume that mesothelioma deaths will stop 27 years after enactment of this legislation given the 50 year latency of the disease and the ongoing exposure to asbestos through remediation efforts and its presence in the built environment.