Higher Mesothelioma Risk for Former Workers at Hanford

Posted by Adam McRoberts

Former construction workers at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation have shown an increased risk in developing asbestos related diseases, according to a recent study.

The study published in the September issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine drew on data collected in the Building Trades National Medical Screening Program for Hanford and three other Department of Energy sites.

“While several studies have investigated mortality risks among (Department of Energy) production workers, little data exist concerning mortality among construction and trade workers,” the study said. It looked at 8,976 workers who had participated in the building trades screening program at the four sites and had an initial screening interview from 1998 through 2004. Those interviews were compared to the National Death Index, which had information only through 2004 when the study began.

About 31 percent of the people in the study—2,779 workers—had done construction work at Hanford, and 94 of the 266 Hanford workers who had died had died of cancer.

That is 14 more cancer deaths than would be expected in the general U.S. population, said Knut Ringen of Stoneturn Consultants in Seattle, one of the authors of the study. He also is the principal investigator for the Building Trades National Medical Screening Program.

“The most significant finding at Hanford was a very high rate of mesothelioma,” Ringen said. That’s 11 times more than expected in the general population.

Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lungs and lining of the stomach associated exclusively with exposure to asbestos.

Those cancer deaths were in addition to deaths from asbestosis, a noncancerous lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. The deaths from asbestosis were 30 times that of the general population, which is unlikely to have the disease, he said.

The exposures that may have caused the cancers of the workers in the study likely occurred 20 to 30 years ago, and safety and health protection of workers has improved since then, he said. The study found that the elevated risk for mesothelioma and asbestosis was confined to workers first employed before 1980.

The average age of construction workers volunteering for screening nationwide in the program is about 60.

The study is the Mortality of Older Construction and Craft Workers Employed at Department of Energy (DOE) Sites. The primary author of the study was John Dement of Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina.