Costs related to asbestos exposure much higher than original estimates: IWH

Price tag of new cases of work-related mesothelioma, lung cancer soars to $2.35 billion

Costs related to asbestos exposure much higher than original estimates: IWH

One year's cost of newly diagnosed mesothelioma and lung cancer due to work-related asbestos exposure is significantly higher than first thought, according to a study by the Institute for Work & Health in Toronto.

The original tab was $1.9 billion, but a review of figures now puts that cost at $2.35 billion, according to research by senior scientist Emile Tompa, a health economist who assessed the costs to Canadian society of newly diagnosed cases in 2011.

The study is the first to estimate the costs to society of illnesses associated with work-related asbestos exposures, including secondhand or para-occupational exposures (like a family member’s exposure to fibres brought home on work clothing).

The new estimate is higher because it includes the value of activities in the home (known as home production). This addition to the estimate was requested by the article’s peer reviewers.

Tompa and his team looked at the estimated total lifetime costs of 427 newly diagnosed cases of mesothelioma in 2011, as well as 1,904 newly diagnosed cases of lung cancer in the same year, for a total of 2,331 new cases in 2011. These were all cases attributed to occupational and para-occupational exposures to asbestos.

They considered costs in three areas: direct costs (like health care and family/community caregiver time), indirect costs (such as productivity losses associated with work in the paid labour market and unpaid work in home production) and quality of life costs (for instance, pain, suffering and loss of enjoyment of life).

According to figures provided by IWH, based on the 427 cases in 2011, the economic burden of work-related mesothelioma, broken down, includes:

• $23.2 million in total health care costs

• $117.8 million in productivity and output costs

• $36.8 million in all for insurance administration costs

• $482.3 million due to mesothelioma as an occupational disease. 

The economic burden of asbestos-related lung cancer is even higher. In 1,904 cases of the illness in 2011, IWH reports a total of $81.8 million in health care costs. In total, there are $498.3 million dollars in productivity and output costs and $21.2 million in insurance administration costs. 

These figures all factor in to the total cost of each disease, according to the study.

The study, conducted with funding from the Canadian Cancer Society, was published July 2017 as an open access article in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.