Although asbestos, a mineral that strengthens building materials and makes them heat resistant, has long been recognized as a threat to workers' health in North Carolina and nationwide, a new study indicated that its dangers have been underestimated. The report from the International Commission of Occupational Health more than doubled the number of deaths previously attributed to asbestos exposure. The new estimates placed the number of asbestos-related deaths in the United States for 2016 at 39,275 people.
The president of the ICOH explained that previous estimates from both government and nongovernment agencies failed to take into account diseases other than mesothelioma. Although mesothelioma is widely known to arise from asbestos exposure, the mineral actually contributes to six times as many lung cancers. In addition to lung cancer, researchers have also linked asbestos to ovarian and laryngeal cancers and asbestosis.
Asbestos often goes unrecognized as the source of lung cancer because doctors have trouble separating asbestos exposure from other causes of lung cancer. Oncologists might simply blame lung cancer on smoking, but asbestos actually increases a smoker's chance of getting lung cancer.
Because occupational diseases sometimes take a long time to develop, a person sickened by workplace exposure to toxic substances may have trouble linking a job with a medical diagnosis. An employer might compound the problem by discouraging a report of occupational illness because it might qualify for workers compensation benefits. The representation of an attorney may help a person overcome barriers to filing an insurance claim. An attorney may be able to connect someone with an independent medical exam and locate medical research that associates the person's condition with toxic exposures at work. These efforts might result in an insurance settlement that pays for treatment, lost income and disability.