Background: The potential for a global epidemic of asbestos-related diseases is a growing concern. Our aim was to assess the ecological association between national death rates from diseases associated with asbestos and historical consumption of asbestos.
Methods: We calculated, for all countries with data, yearly age-adjusted mortality rates by sex (deaths per million population per year) for each disease associated with asbestos (pleural, peritoneal, and all mesothelioma, and asbestosis) in 2000-04 and mean per head asbestos consumption (kg per person per year) in 1960-69. We regressed death rates for the specified diseases against historical asbestos consumption, weighted by the size of sex-specific national populations.
Findings: Historical asbestos consumption was a significant predictor of death for all mesothelioma in both sexes (adjusted R2=0.74, p<0.0001, 2.4-fold [95% CI 2.0-2.9] mortality increase was predicted per unit consumption increase for men; 0.58, p<0.0001, and 1.6-fold [1.4-1.9] mortality increase was predicted for women); for pleural mesothelioma in men (0.29, p=0.0015, 1.8-fold [1.3-2.5]); for peritoneal mesothelioma in both sexes (0.54, p<0.0001, 2.2-fold [1.6-2.9] for men, 0.35, p=0.0008, and 1.4-fold for women [1.2-1.6]); and for asbestosis in men (0.79, p<0.0001, 2.7-fold [2.2-3.4]). Linear regression lines consistently had intercepts near zero.
Interpretation: Within the constraints of an ecological study, clear and plausible associations were shown between deaths from the studied diseases and historical asbestos consumption, especially for all mesothelioma in both sexes and asbestosis in men. Our data strongly support the recommendation that all countries should move towards eliminating use of asbestos.