The publication of the book Killer Company James Hardie Exposed, by Matt Peacock, arrived as yet another scandal broke over the behavior of Australia's former asbestos giant.1 The book is full of revelations not least of which is the fact that contaminated carpet underlay, made from hessian bags used to transport asbestos, was to be found in homes throughout the country. The text, which documents decades of deceit and double dealing by generations of corporate officers, draws on the author's painstaking tracking of this company over his 30-year journalistic career.
Developments in Asbestos Cancer Risk Assessment2 by M. A. Silverstein, L. S. Welch and R. Lemen exposes the fatal problems encountered by statisticians in developing models to characterize relative cancer potencies for asbestos fiber types and sizes. Attempts by the (U.S.) Environmental Protection Agency to develop measures for estimating potency factors have now been abandoned. The authors conclude that:
the most important public and environmental health priority concerning the six forms of asbestos regulated by OSHA and other asbestiform mineral fibers is to ban their production and use.
Mortality among British asbestos workers undergoing regular medical examinations (1971-2005), by A H Harding, A Darnton, J Wederdt and D McElvenny, confirms the association of occupational asbestos exposure with mortality from asbestosis, lung, pleural and peritoneal cancers and mesothelioma, and provides "evidence of associations between asbestos exposure and stroke and stomach cancer mortality." The researchers also found some evidence that asbestos exposure was associated with cancers of the colon and the larynx.3
Projection of mesothelioma mortality in Great Britain (Research Report 728) by E Tan and N Warren documents an increase in mesothelioma mortality in Great Britain, with 1705 male deaths4 recorded in 2006:
Mortality amongst all males is expected to keep increasing, reaching a peak at around 2,040 deaths in the year 2016, with a rapid decline following the peak year. Around 91,000 deaths are predicted to occur by 2050 with 61,000 of these occurring from 2007 onwards.5
The burden of cancer at work: estimation as the first step to prevention, by L. Rushton, S. Hutchings and T. Brown, found that 4.9% of all cancer deaths in Great Britain in 2004 were due to work-related carcinogens and that half of these deaths were related to asbestos.6
20 September, 2009
1 Published in 2009 by HarperCollins Publishers Australia Pty Limited ISBN 978 0 7333 2580 9 (pbk).
2 Am. J. Ind. Med. 2009.
3 Occup. Environ. Med. 2009;66;487-495.
4 These authors cite the figure of 1705 male mesothelioma deaths in 2006; they do not include deaths in men aged 90+. It is more accurate therefore to state that the total number of all male mesothelioma deaths in 2006 is 1740, this being the figure from the mesothelioma register.
6 Occup. Environ. Med. 2008;65;789-800.