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January 18, 1980

Experts cite paralysis of asbestos exposure control efforts

JAMA. 1980;243(3):211-213. doi:10.1001/jama.1980.03300290003001

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One hears that considerable trouble is now taken to prevent the inhalation of asbestos dust, so therefore the disease is not likely to appear in the future." So proclaimed a British public health official in 1906 concerning the major health problem posed by the fledgling British asbestos industry.

Since that time, in the United States alone, 30 million tons of asbestos, "the wondrous mineral fiber with the strength of steel," has been nonetheless employed in many products. The result? A public health disaster of unprecedented dimensions (JAMA [MEDICAL NEWS] 239:2215-2216, 1978).

Experts in the study of asbestos-related disease— asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma—now estimate that during the next 40 years, an average of 20,000 deaths per year will result from asbestos exposure. In the period between World War II (when asbestos use first became widespread) and the end of this century, well over half a million Americans will have died