Asbestos exposure is still making people sick

Asbestos particles too small to see with the naked eye can be inhaled into the lungs.

Story highlights

  • The CDC reports that mesothelioma deaths increased from 2,479 in 1999 to 2,597 in 2015
  • Mesothelioma can develop 20 to 50 years after exposure , expert says

(CNN)Researchers at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are struggling to understand why younger populations continue to suffer asbestos-related medical issues despite efforts to reduce exposure from the toxic mineral.

According to a report released by the CDC on Thursday, numbers of deaths related to malignant mesothelioma increased from 2,479 in 1999 to 2,597 in 2015.
    The largest increase was seen in those over 85 years old, but younger populations continue to be affected.
    In those 16 years, 16,914 of the deaths were among people 75 to 84 years old. In the same period, 682 people between the ages of 25 and 44 died of mesothelioma-related problems.
    "Although deaths among persons aged less than 35 years are of concern, we do not have information to understand potential causes," said Dr. Jacek Mazurek, lead author of the CDC report.
    Asbestos refers to six naturally occurring minerals. Because of their flexibility, resistance to heat and low cost, these mineral fibers became popular in manufacturing during the 20th century.
    Before the 1980s, they were used in home insulation and vehicle brakes. Commercial products such as hair dryers and cigarette filters also utilized asbestos.
    When handled or damaged, the fibers that form asbestos easily separate. Particles too small to see with the naked eye can be inhaled into the lungs.
    According to the National Cancer Institute, studies have also suggested an association between asbestos exposure and gastrointestinal and colorectal cancers, as well as an elevated risk for cancers of the throat, kidney, esophagus and gallbladder.
    The use of asbestos was widely reduced when it was discovered that these microscopic fibers could embed in lung tissue, causing lung diseases and respiratory problems. Built-up fibers can cause mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer in the lining of the lungs, chest, abdomen and heart.
    Since the 1970s, the Environmental Protection Agency has banned most asbestos-related products and materials in the United States, dramatically reducing the amount of asbestos used nationwide.
    However, almost 40 years later, people born after the mineral was banned continue to fall victim to asbestos-related mesothelioma.