Finns Tie a Disease, Asbestos Exposure

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CPWR - The Center for Construction Research and Training

Summary Statement

Researchers in Finland have found that retroperitoneal fibrosis, a rare disease, may be caused by exposure to asbestos.

Researchers in Finland have found that a rare disease may be caused by exposure to asbestos. Dr. Pekka Roto, one of the researchers, said health professionals need to be educated about this work-related problem. And, he added, the disease should be covered by workers' compensation.

Known as retroperitoneal fibrosis, the disease causes a large fibrous mass to grow in the belly. The tumor is very painful. It can block the urinary tract and cause death when the kidneys fail. Roto, chief medical officer, Tampere Regional Institute of Occupational Health, in Finland, reported the findings to the Fifth International Construction Health and Safety Conference in Dublin, Ireland.

The researchers found medical records for 13 cases near Tampere, Finland, in 1987-95. The 7 men all had been exposed to asbestos at work; 5 worked in construction. Three of the 6 women may also have been exposed to asbestos, Roto said. The disease strikes 1 or 2 people each year per million population, he added.

A report by Roto and four co-workers is to be published soon in a medical journal. The researchers could find only one past medical article, from 1991, that linked asbestos to the disease.

About 10,000 workers die in the U.S. each year from cancers and asbestosis caused by past exposures to asbestos.

More than 25% of the deaths are in construction. The white mineral is still in old buildings, old concrete, and elsewhere.

(The journal article describing the finding is: Sauni, Riitta, Panu Oksa, Ritva Jarvenpaa, John E. Parker, and Peka Roto. Asbestos Exposure: A Potential Cause of Retroperitoneal Fibrosis. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 33:418-21. April 1998)