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A Slow Death in Texas

A Slow Death in Texas

Asbestos Mortality on the rise in the Lone Star State
Monday, February 14, 2005

Hundreds of Texans Die from Asbestos Each Year

As the Texas legislature begins consideration of controversial asbestos legislation that would restrict the legal rights of people injured by asbestos, hundreds of Texans continue to die of asbestos diseases each year.

At least 259 Texans died in 2002 from just two forms of asbestos disease, according to the most recent data from the National Centers for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control, obtained by the Washington, DC based EWG Action Fund. Mortality is divided roughly evenly between the two diseases, with 132 reported deaths from asbestosis and 127 reported mesothelioma fatalities. More than one third of the deaths in 2002 (103) were in just three metropolitan areas, Houston with 44, Beaumont with 34, and Dallas with 25 (NCHS 2005).

graph of projected asbestos mortality Source: EWG, compiled from National Center for Health Statistics, 2005

From 1979 through 2002, there were 2,910 reported deaths from asbestosis and mesothelioma in Texas. The majority of these casualties are older men. Hundreds more died from mesothelioma during this period, but are not reflected in federal statistics due to reporting oversights described below.

Deaths from these two signature asbestos diseases are increasing in Texas, where combined annual mortality has more than tripled since 1989. From 1979 through 2002, the rate of mesothelioma mortality in Texas increased at about 3.5 percent per year; for asbestosis the increase was roughly 4.4 percent annually.

"EWG Action Fund estimates peak asbestos mortality in Texas at about 1,000 people annually between 2015 and 2020."

Asbestos Fatalities Affect Communities Across Texas, 1979-2002

Metropolitan area Mesothelioma deaths Asbestosis Deaths Total Asbestos related deaths
Houston, TX PMSA 264 260 524
Beaumont-Port Arthur, TX MSA 91 360 451
Dallas, TX PMSA 187 83 270
San Antonio, TX MSA 93 43 136
Galveston-Texas City, TX PMSA 48 62 110
Fort Worth-Arlington, TX PMSA 77 29 106
Austin-San Marcos, TX MSA 55 31 86
El Paso, TX MSA 49 16 65
Corpus Christi, TX MSA 29 34 63
Longview-Marshall, TX MSA 25 32 57
Waco, TX MSA 25 25 50
Brazoria, TX PMSA 20 29 49
Tyler, TX MSA 14 26 40
Victoria, TX MSA 15 17 32
Amarillo, TX MSA 21 10 31
McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX MSA 21 5 26
Killeen-Temple, TX MSA 17 7 24
Brownsville-Harlingen-San Benito, TX MSA 18 5 23
Odessa-Midland, TX MSA 16 6 22
Wichita Falls, TX MSA 15 2 17
Sherman-Denison, TX MSA 15 1 16
Abilene, TX MSA 9 7 16
Lubbock, TX MSA 10 5 15
Bryan-College Station, TX MSA 5 8 13
Texarkana, TX-Texarkana, AR MSA 7 4 11
San Angelo, TX MSA 8 1 9
Laredo, TX MSA 8 0 8

In March 2004, EWG Action Fund projected an increase in asbestos mortality for at least the next decade, based on epidemiology studies in England and Australia, where asbestos use and regulation followed a similar pattern as in the United States (Treasure 2004, Leigh 2003). At that time, spokespersons for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), and the National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), confirmed the EWG Action Fund annual mortality and trend estimates (Rogers 2004, Gardner 2004). This past year, the CDC released a report (link) that also confirmed an increasing trend in asbestos mortality.

The number of deaths from asbestos exposure in Texas is expected to continue a slow but steady increase for at least the next decade, as workers and family members exposed to asbestos during peak use years in the 1970's begin to suffer the effects of fatal or debilitating asbestos diseases. EWG Action Fund estimates that asbestos mortality in the state will peak sometime between 2015 and 2020, at around 400 people per year from mesothelioma and asbestosis alone.

Deaths from mesothelioma and asbestosis represent just a portion of mortality from asbestos in Texas each year. On the national level roughly 60 percent of the 10,000 people who die each year from asbestos exposure die from other cancer or causes not reflected in mesothelioma or asbestosis mortality statistics. EWG Action Fund estimates that the same trend will hold true for Texas, producing peak asbestos mortality in Texas of about 1,000 people annually between 2015 and 2020.

map of asbestos mortality in texas

Texas ranks fifth in the nation for total reported asbestos mortality from these two signature diseases, with 2,910 deaths reported between 1979 and 2002. This total, however, is a substantial underestimate of total asbestos mortality in the state because it only accounts for two forms of asbestos disease, mesothelioma and asbestosis, and because mesothelioma fatalities were dramatically undercounted during most of the reporting period.

 

The federal government did not officially recognize mesothelioma as a cause of death until 1999. Prior to that time, federal mortality statistics for mesothelioma were based exclusively on estimates of proximate cancers, such as cancer of the pleura, or the lining of the chest cavity. When mesothelioma became an officially reported cancer in 1999, the number of mesothelioma fatalities reported in federal mortality statistics more than doubled.

During the 24-year period analyzed, federal data show 1,434 deaths in Texas from asbestosis, and 1,476 from mesothelioma. EWG Action Fund estimates that roughly an additional 1,000 mesothelioma deaths occured during that time that were not reported to federal health officials. The top Texas metropolitan areas for reported asbestos mortality from 1979 through 2002 are Houston, Beaumont, and Dallas, with 1,245 deaths reported between 1979 and 2002 — 524, 451, and 270 respectively.

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