International Commission on Occupational Health Calls Lack of Progress on Mesothelioma and Asbestos “Embarrassing”

At the annual meeting of the International Commission on Occupational Health, experts from around the world addressed occupational cancer in general, and the specific problem of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Calling the lack of progress surrounding asbestos “embarrassing”, the group addressed the latest figures on fatalities and called work-related cancers one of the critical workplace health issues of our time.

The ICOH conference is the largest gathering of occupational health experts, and is held annually to discuss mesothelioma and other occupational diseases. This year’s meeting was held in Dublin, and was attended by representatives of several of the most noted health organizations from around the globe. Among the topics discussed was the underreporting of occupational cancers, which is conservatively estimated to represent 27% of all work-related deaths, or 742,000 deaths each year. Astoundingly, the countries with the highest-income economies also have the biggest percentage of occupational deaths from cancer. The experts agree that one of the biggest problems is the high level of exposure to chemicals and toxins paired with a knowledge gap about the risks that those materials present. That combined with a decline in funding due to a focus on genetic and personalized medicine has yielded a diminishing sense of hope for the future.

Though there are specific challenges in linking a specific cancer to a specific exposure, this is not the case for mesothelioma and asbestos, and that led to the substance being a specific area of concern and frustration for the advocates and scientists present at the meeting. The group heard from Hans-Horst Konkolewsky, secretary general of ISSA, who told of a British documentary on asbestos that had spurred his own interest in asbestos-related diseases. He said that the film had impacted Denmark in a huge way, and had “obliged the Government to prepare an action plan for asbestos in Denmark.” He added: “This brings me to a strong call to action to make this an asbestos free world … We are so far away from this (goal) that it’s embarrassing.”

Others who were present pointed out that high-income countries including the U.S., Australia and the United kingdom had made extensive use of asbestos in the previous 40 years, resulting in the number of mesothelioma deaths in those countries being higher than elsewhere in the world, but that as Asia and other areas continue using the material, their rates will likely increase dramatically going forward unless something is done immediately.

The conference ended with an agreement as to the urgency to take action to prevent future asbestos exposure and more cases of malignant mesothelioma, despite the challenges involved. Said one attendee, “It’s high time for us all to act together to bring a difference.”

If you or someone you love has been affected by asbestos exposure in the workplace, we can help. Contact the Patient Advocates at today at 1-800-692-8608.

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer

Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer is the head writer of our news blog. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in English. Terri believes that knowledge is power and she is committed to sharing news about the impact of mesothelioma, the latest research and medical breakthroughs, and victims’ stories.

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