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April 7, 2009

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Research- Carpenters born in the 1940s at highest risk from asbestos cancers

One in 10 British carpenters born in the 1940s and who worked in the

trade for 10 years before they hit 30 is at risk of developing

asbestos-related cancer.


This is according to a study funded by Cancer Research UK and the HSE,

which involved interviews with more than 600 mesothelioma patients and

1400 healthy people, making it the largest global study of its kind.


The risk among the same group for developing mesothelioma specifically

is about one in 17, while for plumbers, electricians and decorators

born in the same decade and also working for more than 10 years before

they were 30, the risk is one in 50.

The study also revealed that two thirds of all British men and a

quarter of women had worked in jobs involving potential asbestos

exposure at some time in their lives. There was a small increased risk

in those who had lived with someone who had been exposed to asbestos.


Lead researcher and Cancer Research UK epidemiologist, Prof Julian

Peto, commented: “The UK has the highest death rate from mesothelioma

in the world. The risk is highest in people who were exposed to

asbestos before age 30. By getting information on all the jobs people

had ever done we have shown that the risk in some occupations,

particularly in the building industry, is higher than we previously



Construction union UCATT said the result of the study were “deeply

disturbing”. Added general secretary, Alan Ritchie: “It is scandalous

that construction workers who are now most at risk of dying from

asbestos were those who were young men in the 1960s and 70s, working

unprotected with a substance that bosses and the authorities were

already aware was lethal.”


He warned: “It is vital that the research is used to step up campaigns

and prosecutions to ensure that workers are properly protected and no

longer exposed to asbestos.”


Steve Coldrick, head of the HSE’s Disease Reduction Programme, said the

study demonstrates that the Executive has been correctly targeting

those who are most at risk from asbestos exposure. He added: “We must

continue to remember that asbestos maintained in good condition on site

is not a threat unless it’s disturbed, and the fibres become airborne.

Also, other potential ‘risk factors’, such as residence in certain

types of housing, living near industrial sites, or engagement in DIY

activity, were not associated with an increased risk.”


Next year will see publication of the results of the second stage of

the study, which is looking at the role of amosite (brown asbestos) in

causing mesothelioma in the younger generation.


The full results of this first stage of the study – entitled

‘Occupational, domestic and environmental mesothelioma risk in the

British population: a case-control study’ – were published in the

British Journal of Cancer:

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