Denmark has seen a rapid rise in the occurrence of malignant mesothelioma since the 1950s. There was almost no asbestos usage in Denmark until the post World War II era. At that time, it rose steadily until an asbestos ban was implemented in 1980, with an exception for asbestos cement products and brake linings. From the beginning, most of the imported asbestos was used to manufacture cement products. Fortunately, in 1986 a total prohibition of all asbestos covering both import and consumption was put in force.
With that background, a national study of the effects of asbestos was initiated using data from the Danish Cancer Registry. The period covered was 1943 – 2009. The study showed that, though prohibited by 1986, the instances of asbestos-related malignant mesothelioma steadily rose throughout the years studied. In 2009, the last year of the study, researchers concluded that the peak malignant mesothelioma incidence in Denmark had not been reached.
This is not surprising news. Though banned in 1986, total national import levels were not reduced to a negligible level until the early 1990s. Since old asbestos products pose a danger during remodeling or tear-downs, and because there is a latency period that can exceed 50 years prior to diagnosis, Denmark has the potential for asbestos victims into the mid 21st century. With this data it is not possible to determine if a prior estimate of the peak in 2015 is accurate. Study results do show that the peak has not been reached and, at this time, there is no implication that the asbestos ban has affected the rate of occurrence.
While Denmark may seem far from the shores of the United States, this study gives us insight into the future for asbestos-related diseases here in the U.S. While asbestos is no longer mined here, more that 1,000 tons of the mineral are imported each year. Some products are no longer allowed to contain asbestos, such as spray-applied materials for insulation and fire-proofing, insulation materials for hot water tanks and boilers, as well as wall patch compounds. There are still products containing asbestos manufactured here today: vinyl floor tiles, disk brakes, transmission components, cement shingles, and roof coatings. With this type of products still being made and used in the U.S., we are behind Denmark on banning the mineral. Cancers caused by asbestos will still be diagnosed late into this century.
What can we do?
The asbestos industry is strong and government efforts to ban, or even control, asbestos use have been weak. We do have a voice, however. If you think asbestos should be banned outright, knowing that its connection to cancer is verified, contact your federal legislators. Let them know your concerns.
In your home or business, take precautions when remodeling or destroying buildings. If there is a chance that the material contains asbestos, contact an abatement professional to test and remove the product.
Though there have been thousands of victims of this ‘miracle’ mineral, with our current knowledge we can take control of our own environment and we can let our voices be heard in Washington.