MESOTHELIOMA, primarily an asbestos-related cancer, has traditionally been tracked through the incidence rate in workers handling asbestos directly. Now, epidemiologists are recording cases of the tumor in persons who have worked with materials containing even small quantities of asbestos.
"It is a very important new phenomenon," says Irving J. Selikoff, MD, professor emeritus, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, City University of New York. "Physicians must now begin taking histories with questions directed to [learning if patients ever have been] construction workers."
Electricians, plumbers, steamfitters, laborers, carpenters, boilermakers, and their supervisors all have worked around asbestos. Brake-lining repairpersons, workers in chemical plants, refineries, powerhouses, and factories, and building maintenance personnel all are at risk, just as were the much-studied shipbuilders of the 1940s.
Until recently, the basic implements used in these trades contained the friable fibers. Some still do. Asbestos has been used in pipes, concrete, plastics, paints, asphalt, and shingles.