Discussion paper

Scand J Work Environ Health 2024;50(2):53-60    pdf

https://doi.org/10.5271/sjweh.4146 | Published online: 07 Feb 2024, Issue date: 01 Mar 2024

Asbestos and disease – a public health success story?

by Järvholm B, Burdorf A

Objective This paper discusses the failure and success of society to decrease the adverse health effects of asbestos exposure on workers’ health in relation to scientific knowledge.

Methods The findings are based on a narrative literature review.

Results Early warnings of the adverse health effects of workplace exposure to asbestos were published already in the 1930s. Serious health effects, such as malignancies and fibrosis due to occupational asbestos exposure, were highlighted in major medical journals and textbooks in late 1960s. New technologies could detect also asbestos fibers in the lung of non-occupational exposed persons in the 1970s. The first bans for using asbestos came in the early 1970s, and more general bans by authorities came in the 1980s and continue until today.

Conclusions The rather late recognition of adverse effects of asbestos exposure in the general population and measures to decrease the exposure through more general bans came rather late. However, the very strong measures such as general bans in many countries have been a success. A Swedish study showed that the general ban and other measures have decreased the risk of malignancies due to occupational exposure. The effect of the bans on adverse effects in the general population has yet to be studied. Analysis of fibers in the lungs of persons born after the bans could be an efficient method.