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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

Mesothelioma and other Asbestos Diseases – Rising Numbers in Canada

The June 14, 2014 Globe and Mail includes a useful, non-hysterical series of articles on asbestos use in Canada, and the current consequences in terms of death and disease. The articles – by  Tavia Grant and others – include some wonderful, flexible graphics the viewer can alter to observe different data sets.

The articles and charts provide a range of useful overview data, including the following:

“By striking both blue-collar workers and white-collar workers, like Mr. Nolan, mesothelioma has racked up a record as the most common cause of workplace deaths in Canada for every year between 2007 and 2012, with more than 1,200 successful claims for fatality benefits made in that time, data from the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada show. Asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs, which impairs breathing, but is not typically fatal) is the fourth-most common claim.

Other asbestos-related diseases include lung cancer and pleural plaque (a calcification on the lungs). Asbestos exposure also raises the risk of several other of cancers.

The climbing toll of Canada’s top occupational killer is reflected in workers’ compensation statistics. In Alberta, for example, 63 workers died in 2013 of mesothelioma, asbestosis and asbestos-related conditions, compared with 28 deaths a decade earlier, according to the province’s Workers Compensation Board.

The number of accepted claims for mesothelioma in Canada rose 216.4 per cent between 1997 and 2010, a 2013 paper by Dr. Demers and Dr. Ann Del Bianco reports. Across Canada, seven in 10 accepted occupational cancer death claims involve exposure to asbestos.

The Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board has pegged the average cost of a mesothelioma claim at $532,844 (with much of that in survivor benefits, along with health-care costs and loss of earnings).

Mesothelioma deaths are even higher when statistics for non-workplace-related cases are included. Between 2000 and 2011, more than 4,000 people died of mesothelioma, Statistics Canada data show. The number of new cases has almost doubled, to about 500 people per year, since 1992.

The figures likely understate the number of people affected. Workers’ compensation data is based only on the number of successful claims, so that anyone who is not covered by the system of no-fault workplace coverage, who doesn’t file or is unsuccessful in their claim doesn’t show up in the stats.

Indeed, only about half of mesothelioma cases are filed with the workers’ compensation boards, in the estimation of Dr. Demers. And mesothelioma itself is frequently misdiagnosed as lung cancer, so death rates are likely underreported. Asbestosis, too, tends to be under-diagnosed and under-reported.”

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