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Mesothelioma Found in Fiberglass Workers

A study published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine is causing concern and raising questions for mesothelioma scientists and other cancer professionals. The research, conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), has shown that employees exposed to styrene and fiberglass while working in the boatbuilding industry have shown higher risks for both malignant pleural mesothelioma and ovarian cancer.

The study’s goal was to determine whether those workers were at increased risk for leukemia or lymphoma, and determined that there is no greater potential for those blood cancers than in the rest of the population. However, the rest of the study’s results are raising new questions.  The NIOSH researchers analyzed health and occupational information on over 5,000 employees from two boatbuilding plants located in the state of Washington. All worked at the plant between 1959 and 1978 and were exposed to both styrene and fiberglass as well as wood dust.  Their analysis of the data showed that there were an unexpectedly high number of mesothelioma deaths and ovarian cancer deaths among the group, despite the fact that mesothelioma is considered to be caused only be exposure to asbestos.

There is no record of any asbestos exposure having taken place at either of the plants. The scientists surmise that both the mesothelioma and the ovarian cancer were a result of the environment in the boat building plants. According to the study’s lead author Avima Ruder, PhD and NIOSH Senior Research Epidemiologist, “Unanticipated excess mesothelioma and ovarian cancer mortality …  could be due to fiberglass exposure or employment elsewhere, or could be chance findings.” A similar unexplained incidence of unexpected mesothelioma cases occurred when a group of researchers from the University of Minnesota conducted a long-term study of taconite workers it Minnesota’s iron mines.  In the case of that research, it remains undetermined whether the mesothelioma incidence was the result of the iron mine environment or whether the workers had been exposed to asbestos at some other point in their lives, whether occupationally or environmentally in their homes.

There are certain similarities between fiberglass and asbestos, particularly in the fact that fibrous glass dust produced in fiberglass environments can be inhaled in the same way that asbestos fibers are. It is believed that mesothelioma is caused by asbestos fibers becoming embedded in the cells of the lungs, causing cell death and later mutations.

Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Oppenheimer is an independent writer, editor and proofreader. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in English. Her dreams of a writing career were diverted by a need to pay her bills. She spent a few years providing copy for a major retailer, then landed a lucrative career in advertising sales. With college bills for all three of her kids paid, she left corporate America for a return to her original goal of writing. She specializes in providing content for websites and finds tremendous enjoyment in the things she learns while doing her research. Her specific areas of interest include health and fitness, medical research, and the law.

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