Highest Mesothelioma Rate Found for UK Boomer Carpenters

Britain's Health and Safety Executive said Tuesday that the largest global study of its kind, funded by Cancer Research UK and HSE, showed British carpenters born in the 1940s have a higher mesothelioma rate than plumbers, electricians, or decorators born in the same decade. One in 17 carpenters of that generation who worked as carpenters for more than 10 years will die of the cancer of the lining of the lungs that is caused by asbestos.

The study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, interviewed more than 600 patients with mesothelioma and 1,400 healthy people to calculate UK rates of the disease linked to different occupations. Plumbers, electricians, and decorators born in the same decade who worked in their trade for more than 10 years before they were 30 have a risk of one in 50, and for other construction trades the rate is one in 125. For every case of mesothelioma, asbestos also causes about one case of lung cancer, so the overall risk of asbestos-related cancer for this group of carpenters is about one in 10.

The study showed that two-thirds of all British men and one quarter of women had worked in jobs involving potential asbestos exposure at some time in their lives, and it found a small increased risk for those who had lived with someone who had been exposed to asbestos. By comparison, the risk of mesothelioma for the rest of the British population who have not been exposed occupationally to asbestos is about one in 1,000.

"The UK has the highest death rate from mesothelioma in the world," said Professor Julian Peto, Cancer Research UK epidemiologist and lead researcher, who works at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. "The risk is highest in people who were exposed to asbestos before age 30. By getting information on all the jobs people had ever done, we have shown that the risk in some occupations, particularly in the building industry, is higher than we previously thought. New regulations introduced in 1970 reduced exposure to asbestos in factories, but heavy exposure to the much larger workforce in construction and various other industries continued."

"The Health and Safety Executive and Cancer Research UK commissioned this research to learn more about the impact of asbestos related cancers upon our workforce, but particularly for those born in the 1940s who have potentially been more exposed to asbestos than later born tradesmen," aid Steve Coldrick, who heads HSE's Disease Reduction Programme. "This research demonstrates that HSE has been correctly targeting the workers who are most at risk to asbestos exposure. HSE remains committed to raising awareness of the dangers of working with asbestos through our work streams and activities such as the 'Hidden Killer' campaign. We must continue to remember that asbestos maintained in good condition on site is not a threat unless it's disturbed and the fibers become airborne. Also, other potential 'risk factors' such as residence in certain types of housing, living near industrial sites, or engagement in DIY activity were not associated with an increased risk."

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