Monday, June 17, 2013

The Risk Associated With Living Downwind of Asbestos Sources

Usman Paracha writes about a recent report on mesothelioma risk and cement plants:
Researchers found that the chances of developing environmental pleural mesothelioma was higher in the population living within the “500 m of the [cement] plant than in those living in a radius of 500-2000 m and much higher than those living at 2000-10 000 m.” Moreover, the chances were even higher in the downwind direction from the asbestos source.
The original paper isn't Open Access, but it consists of a single table of observations that show a 161-fold higher rate of mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer, associated with living downwind from a cement plant under study. 

Though it's a one table paper, what the researchers did very nicely was isolate the cement plant as a contaminating source of asbestos by considering people living in proximity of two other asbestos-using industries in the region; a brake factory and an asbestos insulation factory:
In the present study, there were no cases of pleural mesothelioma around two other factories in the area in which asbestos was used. This is not surprising considering that in the asbestos cement plant a large volume of raw, fluffed asbestos was manipulated in the open air, while the other two factories worked with much smaller amounts of processed asbestos in closed areas.
So as they state, it's not a shocking observation, but nevertheless helps make the study a good example of experimental design.