Original article

Scand J Work Environ Health 1998;24(5):392-397    pdf

doi:10.5271/sjweh.360

Anthophyllite exposure and endemic pleural plaques in Kumamoto, Japan

by Hiraoka T, Ohkura M, Morinaga K, Kohyama N, Shimazu K, Ando M

Objectives This study explored the high prevalence of pleural plaques in the town of Matsubase in Kumamoto, Japan.

Methods Small-size chest X-ray film was used for screening, and all persons with pleural plaques were confirmed by computed tomography (CT). The prevalence rate of pleural plaques in the 4 districts of Matsubase and its surrounding towns and cities were also examined. The age-adjusted mortality rate for lung cancer in this town was compared with that of its surrounding towns and cities.

Results Pleural plaques were found in 1357 persons (724 men and 633 women) among the inhabitants who were more than 20 years of age in Matsubase between 1988 and 1993. CT scans ascertained 938 cases with pleural plaques among the 1114 persons who participated. Thus at least 9.5% of the inhabitants over 20 years of age in this town had pleural plaques. The neighboring towns had a higher rate than the more distant towns. A large-scale open-cast asbestos mine and mill had been in operation in Matsubase between 1883 and 1970. Mineral analysis revealed anthophyllite fibers. Most of the plaques were found in persons who had never worked in the mine or mill.

Conclusion The high prevalence of pleural plaques in Matsubase was due to anthophyllite exposure, mainly environmental. No mesotheliomas were found, however. These findings agree with those from an earlier study from Finland.