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Asbestos Ban Has Not Stopped Spread of Malignant Mesothelioma in Iceland

2891243_Asbestos RemovalA 30+ year asbestos ban in Iceland has so far done little to decrease the incidence of the so-called asbestos cancer.

A new study involving researchers from the country’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the University of Iceland, and the Centre for Health Security and Communicable Disease Control finds that malignant mesothelioma is still on the rise in Iceland and shows no signs of slowing.

Asbestos and Mesothelioma in Iceland

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral once prized for its strength, abundance, and resistance to heat and corrosion.

Although Iceland has no asbestos mines of its own, the country imported the mineral to use in various building products for decades. At the peak of Iceland’s asbestos importation in 1980, the country was bringing in 15 kg per capita.

But by 1983, it had become clear that asbestos was making Icelanders sick. According to the new analysis of mesothelioma incidence in Iceland, the number of cases increased steadily from 1965 to 2014.  

In spite of the asbestos ban, the researchers found that by 2014, there were 22.2 mesothelioma deaths per million Icelandic men and 4.3 per million women.

Asbestos Bans Take Time to Work

Because asbestos is by far the leading cause of malignant mesothelioma worldwide, numerous studies have shown that asbestos bans do work to reduce the incidence of the disease.

Unfortunately, due to mesothelioma’s long latency period, it can take a very long time to see that reduction. People exposed to asbestos typically don’t even begin to develop mesothelioma symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, cough and chest pain until decades after their initial exposure.

Living with The Legacy of Asbestos

Even though Iceland no longer imports asbestos, the team’s analysis of various cancer databases showed that malignant mesothelioma remains a threat.

“In line with the previously high per capita volume of asbestos import, many buildings, equipment, and structures contain asbestos, so there is an on-going risk of asbestos exposure during maintenance, renovations and replacements,” observes study author Kristinn Tomasson, an occupational medicine specialist with the Administration of Occupational Safety and Health.  “It is thus difficult to predict when the incidence of malignant mesothelioma will decrease in the future.”

Data from the Icelandic Cancer Registry, the National Cause-of-Death Registry, and the National Register also revealed that Iceland had a higher incidence of malignant mesothelioma than its neighboring countries.


Tomasson, K, et al, “Malignant mesothelioma incidence by nationwide cancer registry: a population-based study”, July 26, 2016, Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology, eCollection 2016,

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