Mesothelioma in Quebec chrysotile miners and millers: epidemiology and aetiology

A D McDonald, B W Case, A Churg, A Dufresne, G W Gibbs, P Sébastien, J C McDonald
Annals of Occupational Hygiene 1997, 41 (6): 707-19
In a cohort of some 11,000 men born 1891-1920 and employed in the Quebec chrysotile production industry, including a small asbestos products factory, of 9780 men who survived into 1936, 8009 are known to have died before 1993, 38 probably from mesothelioma--33 in miners and millers and five in factory workers. Among the 5041 miners and millers at Thetford Mines, there had been 4125 deaths from all causes, including 25 (0.61%) from mesothelioma, a rate of 33.7 per 100,000 subject-years; the corresponding figures for the 4031 men at Asbestos were eight out of 3331 (0.24%, or 13.2 per 100,000 subject-years). At the factory in Asbestos, where all 708 employees were potentially exposed to crocidolite and/or amosite, there were 553 deaths, of which five (0.90%) were due to mesothelioma; the rate of 46.2 per 100,000 subject-years was 3.5 times higher than among the local miners and millers. Six of the 33 cases in miners and millers were in men employed from 2 to 5 years and who might have been exposed to asbestos elsewhere; otherwise, the 22 cases at Thetford were in men employed 20 years or more and the five at Asbestos for at least 30 years. The cases at Thetford were more common in miners than in millers, whereas those at. Asbestos were all in millers. Within Thetford Mines, case-referent analyses showed a substantially increased risk associated with years of employment in a circumscribed group of five mines (Area A), but not in a peripherally distributed group of ten mines (Area B); nor was the risk related to years employed at Asbestos, either at the mine and mill or at the factory. There was no indication that risks were affected by the level of dust exposure. A similar pattern in the prevalence of pleural calcification had been observed at Thetford Mines in the 1970s. These geographical differences, both within the Thetford region and between it and Asbestos, suggest that the explanation is mineralogical. Lung tissue analyses showed that the concentration of tremolite fibres was much higher in Area A than in Area B, a finding compatible with geological knowledge of the region. These findings, probably related to the far greater biopersistence of amphibole fibres than chrysotile, have important implications in the control of asbestos related disease and for wider aspects of fibre toxicology.

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