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The asbestos-asbestosis exposure-response relationship: a cohort study of the general working population.

OBJECTIVES: The association between asbestos exposure and asbestosis in high-exposed industrial cohorts is well-known, but there is a lack of knowledge about the exposure-response relationship for asbestosis in a general working population setting. We examined the exposure-response relationship between occupational asbestos exposure and asbestosis in asbestos-exposed workers of the Danish general working population.

METHODS: We followed all asbestos-exposed workers from 1979 to 2015 and identified incident cases of asbestosis using the Danish National Patient Register. Individual asbestos exposure was estimated with a quantitative job exposure matrix (SYN-JEM) from 1976 onwards and back-extrapolated to age 16 for those exposed in 1976. Exposure-response relations for cumulative exposure and other exposure metrics were analyzed using a discrete time hazard model and adjusted for potential confounders.

RESULTS: The range of cumulative exposure in the population was 0.001 to 18 fibers per milliliter-year (f/ml-year). We found increasing incidence rate ratios (IRR) of asbestosis with increasing cumulative asbestos exposure with a fully adjusted IRR per 1 f/ml-years of 1.18 [95% confidence interval (CI) 1.15- -1.22]. The IRR was 1.94 (95% CI 1.53-2.47) in the highest compared to the lowest exposure tertile. We similarly observed increasing risk with increasing cumulative exposure in the inception population.

CONCLUSIONS: This study found exposure-response relations between cumulative asbestos exposure and incident asbestosis in the Danish general working population with mainly low-level exposed occupations, but there is some uncertainty regarding the exposure levels.

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