The impact of asbestos exposure in Swedish construction workers
Objective To study the occurrence of pleural mesothelioma as a measure of the impact on health from asbestos exposure in the construction industry.
Methods The occurrence of pleural mesothelioma in different occupations, time periods and birth cohorts was studied in a cohort of construction workers. They were prospectively followed after they had participated in health examinations between 1971 and 1993. The analysis was restricted to men and in total 367,568 men was included in the analysis.
Results In total there were 419 cases of pleural mesotheliomas between 1972 and 2009. As expected the age adjusted incidence was high in insulation workers and plumbers (39 and 16 cases per 100,000 person-years, respectively). However, only 21% of the pleural mesotheliomas occurred in those occupational groups. Occupational groups with many cases of pleural mesothelioma were concrete workers (N = 56), wood workers (N = 55), painters (N = 32), electricians (N = 48), and foremen (N = 37). The highest risk was in birth cohorts born between 1935 and 1945. Between 1995 and 2009 around one-third of all male cases in the country occurred in this birth cohort. The risk seemed to decrease considerably in men born after 1955.
Conclusion In Sweden a considerable proportion of pleural mesotheliomas occur among construction workers, and not only in jobs traditionally associated with asbestos exposure such as insulators and plumbers but also among electricians, for example. The results shows that asbestos exposure occurs in many occupational groups, indicating that safe handling of asbestos is a very difficult or even impossible task in the construction industry.