UK Mesothelioma Reports 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



According to new government data (Health and Safety Statistics 2000/01, the incidence of mesothelioma exploded in the UK during the 1990s. Although the occurrence of asbestosis remained more or less constant, the number of mesothelioma cases increased by 78% from 895 in 1990 to 1595 in 1999.

Information sheets, Mesothelioma Occupation Statistics and Mesothelioma Area Statistics, produced by the Epidemiology and Medical Statistics Unit of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) break the figures down by occupation and region. With rates six times the national average, men experiencing the highest risk were metal plate workers (including shipyard workers) and vehicle body builders (including rail vehicles). Plumbers and gas fitters were at four times and carpenters three times the risk of contracting mesothelioma. Other occupations which generated high levels of the disease were: electricians, construction workers, production fitters, electrical plant operators, boiler operators, sheet metal workers, welders and electrical engineers. High proportional mortality ratios were found for eight categories of construction and related trade workers such as carpenters (3.93), construction workers (2.81) plasterers (2.52) and managers in construction (2.54). Regionally, male mesotheliomas were grouped around ports and dockyards: "The county district with the highest SMR (Standardised Mortality Ratio) is the shipbuilding area of Clydebank which had an SMR ten times higher than the average for Great Britain. Other Scottish port and dockyard areas with high SMRs include Dumbarton, Bearsden and Milngavie, Inverclyde, Renfrew, Glasgow City, Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline." Disease levels were also elevated in areas with large railway engineering works, dockyards handling asbestos imports and industries processing raw asbestos.

Calculations based on a formula proposed by the HSE, "a reasonable rule of thumb would be to allow for one or two extra lung cancers for each mesothelioma," suggest that the expected incidence of asbestos-related lung cancer should be between 1776-3552 in 1999. The actual figure recorded is 38. Unable to explain this discrepancy, the report simply noted: "There is evidence to suggest that these figures substantially underestimate the true extent of the disease."

More mesothelioma victims are applying for compensation under the Industrial Injuries Scheme, a government-run, non-contributory, no-fault method of providing disablement benefit for injured workers ( A 41% increase in applications by patients with diffuse mesothelioma contributed to an overall 20% rise in cases of newly diagnosed prescribed diseases. Table 2.3 on page 9 of the report analyses prescribed asbestos diseases claims which include: 190 diffuse mesothelioma (179 male/ 11 female), 8 (all male) primary carcinoma of the lung with accompanying evidence of asbestosis or unilateral/bilateral diffuse pleural thickening and 69 (68 male/1 female) unilateral or bilateral diffuse pleural thickening. As cases of asbestosis are subsumed within the category of pneumoconiosis, there is no way to know how many of the 261 assessments recorded in this category are for asbestosis claims. However, the HSE Statistics cited in paragraph one noted a 10% increase in asbestosis claims for disablement benefits last year.


December 16, 2001



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