Historical asbestos consumption, a surrogate measure for asbestos exposure at a population level, is associated with deaths from asbestos-related diseases, particularly mesothelioma, new research suggests.

“The extent of asbestos exposure around the world is difficult to measure, mainly because quantified measurement data are few,” study co-author Dr. Ken Takahashi and colleagues note in The Lancet for March 10. “The volume of asbestos consumed per head can act as a surrogate for the exposure levels of a population and ecological associations between exposure rates and disease rates can be measured.”

In the present study, Dr. Takahashi, from the University of Occupational and Environmental Health in Kitakyushu, Japan, and colleagues calculated the mean per head asbestos consumption (kg per person per year) from 1960 to 1969 in 33 countries. This consumption was then compared with death rates due to asbestos-related diseases in 2000 to 2004. These diseases included pleural, peritoneal, and all mesothelioma as well as asbestosis.

In men and women, historical asbestos consumption was significantly associated with deaths from peritoneal and all mesothelioma. For each unit increase in asbestos consumption, mortality due to all mesothelioma rose by 2.4- and 1.6-fold in men and women, respectively.

Historical asbestos consumption was linked to deaths from pleural mesothelioma and asbestosis, but only in men. For each unit increase in asbestos consumption, mortality due to pleural mesothelioma and asbestosis increased by 1.8- and 2.7-fold, respectively.

The current findings support the recommendation that all countries should move toward the complete elimination of asbestos use, the researchers conclude.

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