As in many other countries, including the US, asbestos was used in Sweden for decades in multiple industries. Until about the 1960s, workers around the world were largely unprotected from this deadly toxin because the link between asbestos and mesothelioma had not yet been clearly established.
After scientific evidence was released showing a direct correlation between asbestos and mesothelioma, many countries, including Sweden instituted bans on the use or importation of asbestos. Health experts have attempted to model what the outcomes of those bans would be. However, because mesothelioma can take decades to develop, there had not yet been clear evidence that these bans can, in fact, cut down on mesothelioma cases. The new Swedish study is the first to draw that conclusion.
Scientists from Umea University in Sweden and University Medical Center Rotterdam in The Netherlands compared the incidence of malignant pleural mesothelioma in groups of people who started working both before and after the decreased use of asbestos in Sweden, which happened in about the 1970s. The mesothelioma cases came from the Swedish Cancer Registry.
They found that men and women born between 1955 and 1979 were less likely to develop malignant pleural mesothelioma compared to workers born in the 1940s. “The decreased use of asbestos prevented each year about 10 cases in men and two cases in women below the age of 57 years in 2012,” writes researcher Bengt Jarvholm, an Occupational Medicine specialist with Umea University.
The report concludes that the asbestos ban in Sweden has had a measurable effect on the incidence of mesothelioma. To date, 55 countries have banned asbestos in an effect to cut down on asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma. Although the US has established strict regulations on the use and handling of asbestos, the substance has not been banned.
Jarvholm, B and Burdorf, A, “Emerging evidence that the ban on asbestos use is reducing the occurrence of pleural mesothelioma in Sweden”, July 20, 2015, Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, Epub ahead of print