North Dakota and Asbestos Exposure

Statistics show that North Dakota has had the fewest deaths related to exposure to asbestos. Each year, only 5 or fewer individuals are expected to succumb to mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer or the many other illnesses associated with the carcinogen. The prevalence of agriculture over manufacturing as an integral part of the state’s economy and North Dakota’s lack of a coastline are partially responsible for this, since asbestos was most often used in factories and shipbuilding. Since the state has a population of 640,000 and falling, the numbers of victims is actually projected to decrease in coming years.

However, the numbers may not tell North Dakota’s entire story. Scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) believe that across the US, cases of asbestos related deaths are severely underestimated. There are multiple reasons they believe to be at fault for skewed statistics. First, the government and other organizations have used strict standards in regards to deaths that can be classified as asbestos related. Another problem is the inefficient methods currently used for diagnosing such illnesses. Many doctors and patients don’t know about or relate prior exposure to the current symptoms that are present. It is possible that many more victims have perished in the state whose deaths aren’t included in the statistics.

The threat of asbestos that is present in North Dakota comes largely from the state’s power plants and oil refineries, as well as in commercial and residential buildings.  Even without directly handling the material, dust often settles from ceilings and walls, exposing all that are present. After being inhaled into the lungs, the carcinogen is deposited within the chest cavity. The human body has no mechanism which it can use to remove the substance. The more exposure a person has had, the higher their chance is of developing complications.

While asbestosis is the more commonly-diagnosed asbestos-related disease, mesothelioma cancer is far deadlier.  The symptoms of asbestosis, an inflammation of the lung tissue, can often be reversed, whereas mesothelioma has no cure and prognosis is generally poor by the time the disease is discovered.  In the years between 1980 and 2000, nearly 100 North Dakotans died of asbestos-related disease, and mesothelioma victims outnumbered asbestosis victims two to one.