Lung Cancer Risk Associated with Regulated and Unregulated Chrysotile Asbestos Fibers

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Abstract

Background:

Regulation of asbestos fibers in the workplace is partly determined by which fibers can be visually counted. However, a majority of fibers are too short and thin to count this way and are, consequently, not subject to regulation.

Methods:

We estimate lung cancer risk associated with asbestos fibers of varying length and width. We apply an order-constrained prior both to leverage external information from toxicological studies of asbestos health effects. This prior assumes that risk from asbestos fibers increases with increasing length and decreases with increasing width.

Results:

When we apply a shared mean for the effect of all asbestos fiber exposure groups, the rate ratios for each fiber group per unit exposure appear mostly equal. Rate ratio estimates for fibers of diameter <0.25 μm and length <1.5 and 1.5–5.0 μm are the most precise. When applying an order-constrained prior, we find that estimates of lung cancer rate ratio per unit of exposure to unregulated fibers 20–40 and >40 μm in the thinnest fiber group are similar in magnitude to estimates of risk associated with long fibers in the regulated fraction of airborne asbestos fibers. Rate ratio estimates for longer fibers are larger than those for shorter fibers, but thicker and thinner fibers do not differ as the toxicologically derived prior had expected.

Conclusion:

Credible intervals for fiber size-specific risk estimates overlap; thus, we cannot conclude that there are substantial differences in effect by fiber size. Nonetheless, our results suggest that some unregulated asbestos fibers may be associated with increased incidence of lung cancer.

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