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Power Plant Mesothelioma Case May Be Just the Start for Mongolia

28125643_Nuclear Power PlantMongolia has recorded its first-ever case of mesothelioma, but researchers say it is not likely to be the last.

An article in the International ournal of Occupational and Environmental Health details the case of a 47-year old woman who developed mesothelioma after working for 28 years in a coal-burning thermal power plant. As in other parts of the world, asbestos has been widely used in Mongolian thermal power plants as an insulating material.

Based on the prevalence of asbestos at these power plants, and the fact that more than 80 percent of mesothelioma cases worldwide have a history of asbestos exposure, the researchers recommend that Mongolia prepare for a significant rise in the disease.

“We expect additional cases of mesothelioma, as well as other asbestos-related diseases, will be identified in the future,” writes occupational hygienist Dr. Naransukh Damiran with the School of Public Health in the Health Sciences University of Mongolia. Damiran and his colleagues say Mongolia should set up an asbestos disease registry to keep track of mesothelioma cases. A recent study on worldwide mesothelioma rates found that too many countries were ignoring the risk and not tracking the disease at all.

In the U.S., where around 2,500 cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year, the nation’s more than 50,000 power plants have been a significant source of asbestos exposure. Because of its heat- and fire-resistance, plants often used asbestos insulation around pipes and to form gaskets in the generators, turbines and boilers that produce electricity. Even power plant floors and ceilings were often made of asbestos-containing materials to help make them more fire-proof. Any time any of these asbestos-containing parts had to be repaired or modified, the dust created a mesothelioma risk.

Although power plants haven’t used these materials in new buildings or equipment in the U.S. since the 1970s, many plants still contain old asbestos. Workers now have to wear protective gear when working in asbestos-containing areas of power plants in order to minimize the risk of mesothelioma.

Unfortunately, these worker protections came too late for many power plant employees, some of whom developed mesothelioma decades after their exposure. Power plants are still high on the list of industries whose workers are most likely to develop mesothelioma. In the U.S., the construction and shipbuilding industries and the Navy have also produced a disproportionate number of mesothelioma victims.

Pleural mesothelioma is a fast-growing cancer of the lining around the lungs. It is the most common form of mesothelioma, but the disease can also affect the abdominal lining and the membrane surrounding the heart.


Damiran, N, “Mesothelioma in Mongolia: case report”, January 13, 2015, International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, Epub ahead of print

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