Recently, Canada conducted its first-ever estimate of the financial costs created by asbestos-related cancers. That cost? $1.7 Billion per year – and, according to The Globe and Daily Mail, that's a low-ball estimate.
The average, individual asbestos case – specifically those involving lung cancer or the rare cancer, mesothelioma – costs $818,000. That's nearly $1 Million dollars per victim. The total of $1.7 Billion takes into account all of the related healthcare costs, the value of lost productivity at work, and the costs of a reduced quality of life.
Experts point out that the study only looked at newly diagnosed cases in a single year, and didn't tally the costs associated with ongoing or previously existing cases. The study also didn't account for the financial toll of many other asbestos-related cancers and diseases, such as asbestosis. If pre-existing cases and all asbestos-related conditions were factored in, the figure would likely be much, much larger.
The results are startling enough that Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has said the government is "moving to ban asbestos" because "its impact on workers far outweighs any benefits that it might provide." This is fantastic news in a country where asbestos is the number 1 cause of work-related deaths.
But if Canada is experiencing such a high toll from asbestos, the question remains, what is the burden on the U.S.?
The United States has roughly 10 times the population of Canada, with the state of California alone having more people than all of Canada. With its greater size, the U.S. has more industry, more workers, and, as a result, more asbestos cases.
Adding to the financial burden experienced by Americans is the fact that medicine and treatment are all far, far more expensive in the U.S. than in a socialized country like Canada.
Early Deaths and Staggering Medical Costs Lead to Huge Losses for Americans
A study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine found that, between 1999 and 2010, asbestos-related diseases caused over 427,000 years of “productive life” to be lost in the form of early deaths due to mesothelioma and asbestosis.
In 2014, the average annual American income was $44,600; if that number is multiplied times the 427,000 lost years, the total cost to Americans comes to roughly $20 Billion over a 10-year period. That’s $2 Billion a year just from lost wages.
But lost wages are only 1 small piece of the puzzle. Consider the huge costs of medical expenses. While treatment varies from patient to patient, it's not at all unreasonable for mesothelioma victims to expect to pay about $400,000 for their first year of treatment. Some patients may pay less, depending on their condition and time of diagnosis, but others may pay much more, especially if they have to undergo painful and expensive surgeries, like a pneumonectomy. A pneumonectomy surgery can cost around $250,000 on its own.
Corporate Lies Lead to Billions of Dollars in Legal Fees
On top of lost wages and medical expenses are the legal tolls of asbestos. Between the early 1970s and 2002 many major corporations like Johns Manville Corp. and Honeywell hid the dangers of asbestos from the public in order to keep making profits.
During this time, thousands of workers, miners, and veterans fell ill. When the dangers of asbestos finally became public knowledge, these corporations received an avalanche of lawsuits from victims. By 2002, more than 730,000 people had filed asbestos claims, costing the industry $70 Billion.
Since 1988, 60 asbestos-manufacturing companies facing bankruptcy have been court-ordered to set up asbestos trusts to handle the overwhelming number of claims. All told, those 60 trusts have $37 Billion in total assets, all of it earmarked to pay off victims.
A report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that between 1988 and 2010, asbestos trusts handled 3.3 million different claims valued at a total cost of $17.5 Billion. Thus, legal expenses alone have amounted to just under $1.5 Billion per year for the past 12 years.
The Real Cost of Asbestos in America
There are no official studies on the financial cost of asbestos-related diseases in America just yet, but even a casual glance at the numbers suggests it is massive. Legal fees in the U.S alone cost nearly as much as the total figure for Canadian expenses. Lost wages and medical expenses cost even more.
Unfortunately, things will likely get worse before they get better. Asbestos causes at least 12,000 to 15,000 deaths in America each year.
Some expert estimates predict that asbestos-related diseases will kill 300,000 in the next 30 years.
Many of these deaths, as is the case in Canada, are work-related. Federal agencies have estimated that 1.3 million workers in general industry and construction trades, as well as 45,000 miners are exposed to asbestos.
Then there are the 1.4 million teachers and public school employees who are also at risk of exposure.
Many of these people are being exposed to asbestos now, but they won’t show any symptoms until 25-50 years later. If asbestos isn’t banned completely, diseases like mesothelioma will continue to rob America of its citizens and its money for decades to come.