Malignant Mesothelioma Cases on the Rise in UK, Australia

Julian Peto, a British cancer research specialist, has released the results of a study that indicates one in ten carpenters in Australia and the United Kingdom born before 1950 will die of malignant mesothelioma – more than five times the mortality rate found in the United States .
Between 2000 and 2050, some 30,000 Australians will die of malignant mesothelioma. Australia and the United Kingdom have some of the highest rates of fatality from the deadly disease worldwide. There are 600 cases per year in Australia and 2,000 cases in the United Kingdom , according to Peto. Peto reached his conclusions after researching the occupational histories of 600 mesothelioma patients and conducting an analysis of country-by-country trends in mortality from mesothelioma. He emphasized that the workers he studied were exposed no only to blue asbestos, commonly known as crocidolite, but also to brown amosite asbestos, which was a common component of building products in Australia and the United Kingdom until the 1980s.

Brown asbestos was a primary constituent of cement sheeting and roofing products. Use of the brown asbestos products was completely unregulated through the 1980s, and carpenters were at particular risk, as they would cut it up with power saws, releasing large quantities of asbestos dust. At the time, it was thought that brown asbestos was not nearly as dangerous as blue asbestos, a belief that has been reversed as further study indicated that brown asbestos was also a deadly cause of malignant mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Peto said that the mortality rate difference between the United States and the Commonwealth nations was primarily due to different methods of construction used in the different countries; American carpenters and other construction workers simply weren’t exposed to as many asbestos-containing products. Peto’s research also criticizes the prior belief that lower levels of asbestos exposure would be safe; current science indicates that even mildly elevated levels of asbestos fibers in the air or water can pose a substantial health threat.