Team updates findings on mesothelioma, cancers among Chinese asbestos workersChina is the world's leading purchaser and consumer of asbestos, according to the Center for Public Integrity (CPI). As such, in certain Chinese communities, the rates of asbestos exposure and consequent diseases (like malignant pleural mesothelioma) are unbelievably high.
For proof, take a look at an update of an ongoing examination of asbestos-related mortality among Chinese asbestos workers. Published in the Journal of Thoracic Oncology (JTO), the report is based on 37 years of data collected from workers in one asbestos plant in Chongqin.
Protections for workers are slim, underused
The new article updates data published in a 2001 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology. In both cases, the research team - which primarily hails from the West China University of Medical Sciences - based their findings on a cohort of 577 asbestos workers.
There is no lack of such people in China. In 2007 alone, the nation used 690,000 tons of asbestos, a figure that dwarfs all those of other countries. For comparison, consider that India, the next-largest consumer of asbestos, used less than one-half that amount in the same time period.
The CPI reports that China is also the world's second-biggest miner and producer of raw asbestos, exporting nearly 309,000 tons annually.
Several years ago, Li Qiang, the executive director of the New York-based nonprofit China Labor Watch, told the source that "in the future, China will face a public health crisis triggered by the use of asbestos."
That future appears to be now.
Mesothelioma, lung cancers abound
In the newly updated JTO report, researchers noted that 259 asbestos-exposed participants - or nearly one-half the studied cohort - have died since first being enrolled in 1972. Many of these deaths have been caused by malignancies, some of them clearly associated with asbestos exposure.
The article noted that 53 participants have died of lung cancers, which is four times the expected rate of this disease. Likewise, the prevalence of deaths related to respiratory disease in general were three times higher than the average.
Furthermore, two of the study participants have succumbed to mesothelioma, making that illness's mortality rate much higher in the Chinese cohort than is typical worldwide.
Qiang blames much of this trend on poor adherence to safety measures.
"The guidelines that China's government has put forward to protect workers do in fact offer workers protection," he told CPI. "But the challenge is Chinese officials don't have any way to effectively implement them. Factories flagrantly fail to respect Chinese law."
In the U.S., legislation restricts the use of asbestos, yet due to mesothelioma's long latency period, previously exposed workers continue to die from the disease.
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