OBJECTIVES--The study aimed to evaluate the risk of pleural plaques according to the degree of past exposure to asbestos, type of amphibole asbestos, and smoking, as well as to estimate the aetiologic fraction of asbestos as a cause of plaques among urban men. METHODS--The occurrence and extent of pleural plaques were recorded at necropsies of 288 urban men aged 33 to 69 years. The pulmonary concentration of asbestos and other mineral fibres was analysed with scanning electron microscopy. The probability of past exposure was estimated from the last occupation. RESULTS--Pleural plaques were detected in 58% of the cases and their frequency increased with age, probability of past occupational exposure to asbestos, pulmonary concentration of asbestos fibres, and smoking. The risk of both moderate and widespread plaques was raised among asbestos exposed cases, and the risk estimates were higher for widespread plaques than for moderate plaques. The age adjusted risk was higher for high concentrations of crocidolite/amosite fibres than for anthophyllite fibres. The aetiologic fraction of pulmonary concentration of asbestos fibres exceeding 0.1 million fibres/g was 43% for widespread plaques and 24% for all plaques. The median pulmonary concentrations of asbestos fibres were about threefold greater among cases with widespread plaques than among those without plaques. No increased risk of pleural plaques was associated with raised total concentrations of non-asbestos fibres. CONCLUSION--The occurrence of pleural plaques correlated closely with past exposure to asbestos. The risk was dependent on the intensity of exposure. Due to methodological difficulties in detecting past exposures to chrysotile and such low exposures that may still pose a risk of plaques, the aetiologic fractions calculated in the study probably underestimate the role of asbestos.
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