We always hear about increasing mesothelioma incidence rates, despite the discontinuance of using a lot of building products that were made with asbestos. Why is this true? If you have fewer building products that contain asbestos, then you have less exposure, not more.
Why Such High Mesothelioma Incidence Rates?
Where are all the mesothelioma incidences coming from?
The answer is a bit complicated but there is always a latency period between exposure and when the disease presents itself. This could be 10 years, 20 years or even 40 years.
Homes Have Asbestos in the Building Components
The exposure could come from a number of places. There could be asbestos in any homes that were built prior to the big ban of using different building products.
If these homes catch on fire, the asbestos is released into the air and even inspecting the remnants of a fire can be enough exposure to cause mesothelioma. And of course, if firemen put out the fire, then they are inhaling the asbestos fibers and increasing their risk of asbestosis and mesothelioma.
Working in an Asbestos-Containing Atmosphere
The exposure could be from the workplace. It could also be from the contaminated clothing of a father or mother, husband, wife, brother, or sister who works in an environment that contains asbestos fibers.
Lack of Knowledge on the Topic
The exposure could be under-reported, and the case number simply not reported. If doctors don’t hear about the exposure to asbestos, they don’t know to look for it in their patients. They could easily attribute health issues to other causes. In the early days of asbestos use in asbestos factories, this was most likely the case.
The Environment is Contaminated
The exposure could come from the environment. Certain locations on earth are high in asbestos fibers. For example, there is a gorge in Australia that is two miles long that contains asbestos. Russia is known for its deposits as is China. Studies have shown that simply living in an area of these deposits – or a factory – can conjure up the fibers into the air, causing massive amounts of asbestos fibers in the air. Imagine if you’re born into a family that lives in a highly contaminated area, you grow up there, and play outside just about every day of your life. You finally move away to go to college but the damage is already done. You’ve been inhaling asbestos day in and day out for almost 20 years.
Asbestos is in the Rocks
Asbestos is most commonly found in rocks. The three rocks that contain asbestos fibers are serpentinites, altered ultramafic rocks and some mafic rocks. These are the most common but the following types of rocks may also host asbestos:
• alkali intrusions
• metamorphosed dolostones
• metamorphosed iron formations
If these rocks are fractured, pressured, crushed, broken, or exposed to water, this leads to asbestos formation.
Mesothelioma Incidence Rates in Slovania
In the medical journal, European Journal of Cancer Prevention, in 2017, researchers analyzed maps and incidence data for the mesothelioma epidemic over a period of 50 years, from 1961 to 2014.
Asbestos started to be imported to the country of Slovenia in 1940-1944, and the number of cases of mesothelioma peaked exactly 30 years later. Maps showing where the known asbestos sources coincided with clusters of cases of mesothelioma in the years 1980-1990. In the last few years, the cases have been more dispersed.
Based on records from the cancer registry in Slovenia, the experts believe that the mesothelioma epidemic there has already hit its peak and cases will become more and more random.
Austria’s History for Asbestos Use
Austria has been thought to have a lower increase in mesothelioma incidence rates compared with its neighbor countries. Yet, Austria was one of the first countries to start the production of asbestos products. In 1893, Ludwig Hatschek purchased his first factory for asbestos products in Austria.
By 1900, he had invented and was producing asbestos cement. One of his patents was for asbestos shingles, and interestingly, his patent was reissued in 1907 in the United States. Seven years later, Hatschek’s family was left to continue the family business. And in between those years, the asbestos products were shipped to South America, Africa and Asia. The shingles lasted longer – up to 30 years – and were fireproof. They were also less costly.
By 1990, the asbestos cement factory employed 2816 employees up until 1999. During that time period and up to 2001, 26 cases of pleural mesothelioma were registered in the cancer registry. Asbestos was partially banned in Austria in 2003.
Mortality rates of men were lowest in 1980-1989 and similar in 1970-79 and 1990-2001. The mesothelioma incidence rates increased over time but were not significant according to the statistical analysis run reported in the study.
In women, only one female of the 2816 employees died from mesothelioma. The mortality and incidence rates of mesothelioma decreased significantly over the years. The researchers concluded that “no epidemic of mesothelioma due to past asbestos exposure is to be expected in Austria.”
Reading this study from Vienna, Austria, gives us a bit of suspicion. Why would there be so few cases of mesothelioma when researchers from around the world are consistently finding that exposure to asbestos fibers in any amounts increases the risk of developing asbestosis and mesothelioma? Is it because another 10 years has to pass by so that more cases of mesothelioma will be diagnosed?
Is it because careful records simply were not kept, such as what happened in China in the textile industries? Is there a cover-up here that the business owners wanted kept hidden?
Or is there something magical about Austria that is allowing people exposed to asbestos to remain healthy?
Only time will tell. If you or anyonelse has been exposed to asbestos or contracted mesothelioma and requires legal assistance, please contact an experienced mesothelioma attorney.
Zadnik, V., et al. Time trends and spatial patterns in the mesothelioma incidence in Slovenia, 1961-2014. Eur J Cancer Prev 2017 Sep;26. Joining forces for better cancer registration in Europe:S191-S196. Doi:10.1097/CEJ.0000000000000384.
Neuberger, M. and Vutuc, C. Three decades of pleural cancer and mesothelioma registration in Austria where asbestos cement was invented. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 2003 Mar;76(2):161-166. Epub 2002 Nov 20.
Naturally Occurring Asbestos. Where is Asbestos Found? Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Accessed online Jan. 30, 2020. https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/noa/where_is_asbestos_found.html
Jurin, Christophor. The Rise and Fall of Asbestos Shingles. 10/15/19. Accessed online Jan. 30, 2020. https://www.thespruce.com/rise-and-fall-of-asbestos-shingles-2902132