Shipbuilders, construction workers, and people who help manufacture products made of asbestos have the highest risk of developing pleural mesothelioma, but other types of workers are not completely safe either.
Asbestos was widely used in industries around the world for more than 60 years because of its low-cost, fire and chemical resistance, and strength. But in a recent four-year study of 462 French workers (80.3% men), researchers confirmed that industries that put employees in a position to potentially inhale the caustic mineral fibers are most likely to trigger the so-called ‘asbestos cancer’, mesothelioma. According to recent studies, mesothelioma is the result of chronic irritation and inflammation in the soft tissue (pleura) that encases the lungs. Although it is relatively rare, mesothelioma is highly aggressive and usually carries a poor prognosis.
To conduct the study, the French team calculated the odds ratios of contracting mesothelioma and 95% confidence intervals for a number of occupations and industries across France. People who had never worked in those industries were used as the control group.
Although asbestos manufacturing, shipbuilding and construction rated highest for mesothelioma risk, they were not the only fields that carried high risk. The researchers write, “Elevated risks were found in the industries of shipbuilding (OR=9.13, 95% CI: 5.20-16.06) and construction, but also in the manufacturing of metal products, chemicals and railroad and aircraft equipment.” Plumbers, sheet metal workers, welders, metal molders, coremakers (maker of molds for metal casting) and cabinetmakers were also found to be at high risk for mesothelioma. The study goes on to offer guidance for the compensation of workers who have been hurt by asbestos, and advice for reducing the risks to current workers.
In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established guidelines for workers and employers for handling and working around asbestos to avoid asbestos caused diseases like mesothelioma. In addition to requiring special negative pressure respirators and protective clothing, EPA limits the amount of time employees who work with friable (airborne) asbestos can work in asbestos-containing areas.
The findings of the new French study were published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.
Rolland, P et al, “Occupations and industries in France at high risk for pleural mesothelioma: A population-based case-control study (1998-2002)”, September 2010, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Epub ahead of print.
Code of Federal Regulations for Asbestos Handling, Environmental Protection Agency website, Accessed Nov. 3, 2010.