The asbestos cancer epidemic

Environ Health Perspect. 2004 Mar;112(3):285-90. doi: 10.1289/ehp.6704.


The asbestos cancer epidemic may take as many as 10 million lives before asbestos is banned worldwide and exposures are brought to an end. In many developed countries, in the most affected age groups, mesothelioma may account for 1% of all deaths. In addition to mesotheliomas, 5-7% of all lung cancers can be attributed to occupational exposures to asbestos. The asbestos cancer epidemic would have been largely preventable if the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) had responded early and responsibly. The WHO was late in recognizing the epidemic and failed to act decisively after it was well under way. The WHO and the ILO continue to fail to address the problem of asbestos mining, manufacturing, and use and world trade of a known human carcinogen. Part of the problem is that the WHO and the ILO have allowed organizations such as the International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH) and other asbestos industry advocates to manipulate them and to distort scientific evidence. The global asbestos cancer epidemic is a story of monumental failure to protect the public health.

MeSH terms

  • Asbestos / poisoning*
  • Commerce
  • Developing Countries*
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Financing, Government
  • Humans
  • International Cooperation
  • Lung Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Lung Neoplasms / etiology
  • Manufactured Materials
  • Mesothelioma / epidemiology*
  • Mesothelioma / etiology
  • Mining
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Occupational Health*
  • Public Policy
  • Risk Assessment
  • Workplace
  • World Health Organization*


  • Asbestos