People who live downwind from an industrial asbestos source are at much higher risk of developing pleural mesothelioma, according to a new study.
Researchers in Barcelona, Spain analyzed 24 cases of pleural mesothelioma diagnosed between 2000 and 2009 near the town of Catalonia. For 90 years, this area of Barcelona was home to a fibrous cement factory where asbestos was used. Because asbestos dust is very light, it does not dissipate in the air quickly. When a person inadvertently inhales or ingests it, the tiny fibers lodge in the tissues and can cause health problems such as mesothelioma even decades later. Although the plant closed in 1997, the rate of mesothelioma in the region continues to be high.
To test whether wind and weather conditions could have an impact on mesothelioma risk in the Barcelona region, the research team first calculated the age-standardized mesothelioma rate in the population being studied. They then analyzed each mesothelioma case based on where the patient lived in relationship to the fibrous cement plant, taking into account both their distance from the plant and the position of their home.
The results suggest that living close to an asbestos source can be dangerous. There were more cases of mesothelioma among people who lived within 500 meters of the plant than there were among people who lived between 500 and 2000 meters from the plant. The incidence of mesothelioma was the lowest among those who lived 2000 to 10,000 meters from the plant.
But distance alone was not the only factor affecting risk; wind direction clearly has an impact, too. “The highest incidence rate ratio for pleural mesothelioma was found in the southeast quadrant of the 500 meters area, coinciding with the predominant wind direction,” report the researchers in Occupational and Environmental Medicine. They concluded that local wind conditions can have a “considerable impact” on the risk of developing pleural mesothelioma for people who live near an asbestos site.
Around the world, asbestos is the primary cause of mesothelioma, a difficult to treat cancer whose incidence is still on the rise, despite asbestos bans and regulations in many countries.
Tarres, J, et al, “Pleural mesothelioma is relation to meteorological conditions and residential distance from an industrial source of asbestos”, May 21, 2013, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Epub ahead of print.
Tarres, J, et al, “Asbestos-Related Diseases in a Population near a Fibrous Cement Factory”, September 2009, Archivos de Bronconeumologia, pp. 429-434.