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State Is 16th In Asbestos Deaths

Environmental group says toll is 716 since '79

Mar 8, 2004 | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Wisconsin ranks 16th in the United States in deaths from asbestos-related diseases, according to a new study from an environmental group.

The Environmental Working Group study says at least 716 Wisconsin residents have died from asbestos exposure since 1979. More than 100 of the deaths have been in Milwaukee County.

Asbestos is a fibrous material that was used as insulation and fireproofing. Its fibers, when inhaled, can cause various breathing ailments including lung cancer. One of the more deadly cancers, mesothelioma, usually doesn't show up until many years after the tiny fibers become embedded in lung tissue like a barbed hook.

California and Florida topped a list of states with asbestos-related deaths, according to the Washington, D.C., environmental group's study.

Asbestos currently kills about 10,000 Americans a year, according to the study. That rate is increasing as more Americans exposed during the peak years of asbestos use, the 1960s and 1970s, reach old age.

Currently, more than 400,000 asbestos-related claims are pending before U.S. and state courts.

While asbestos victims want compensation, Congress has been urged to protect companies from the lawsuits. Business groups have said the majority of claims have been from people who are not sick and may not be sick for years.

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