Objectives The use of asbestos in the construction industry stopped in mid 1970s in Sweden, but is still in use in some countries. The exposure may vary depending on time, country and occupation. We studied the occurrence of malignant pleural mesothelioma as a marker of asbestos exposure and compared it to the workers own estimation of asbestos exposure.
Methods The incidence of malignant pleural mesothelioma was studied among men in a Swedish cohort (N = 367,568) between 1972 and 2009. They reported the exposure to asbestos in early 1970s during a health examination.
Results Insulators and plumbers had the highest incidences (39 and 16 cases per 100,000 person-years respectively) and constituted 21% of all cases. Electricians and sheet metal workers had and incidence around 10 cases per 100,000 persons-years, while concrete workers and wood workers had an incidence of around 5 cases per 100,000 person-years. The correlation was poor between the incidences and reporting any previous exposure to asbestos among men in these occupations, e.g. in the early 1970s only 7% of the concrete workers but 50% of the wood workers reported any previous exposure to asbestos. The corresponding figure for insulators was 34%.
Conclusions The study shows that construction workers constituted a considerable proportion of the malignant pleural mesotheliomas in Sweden (30–40% in 2000–2009). The analysis indicates that many workers were unaware of their exposure to asbestos. Reports of previous asbestos exposure from workers in this industry are uncertain measures of exposure which is important in compensation cases. The cause is probably a considerable indirect exposure.