Objectives: Knowledge of mortality patterns following exposure to asbestos has been determined mostly from cohort studies of men who were exposed to asbestos in their workplace. Women are more likely to have obtained their asbestos exposure domestically or from their environment.
Methods: 2552 women and girls are documented to have lived in the blue asbestos mining and milling township of Wittenoom between 1943 and 1992 and were not involved in asbestos mining or milling. Quantitative asbestos exposure measurements were derived from periodic dust surveys undertaken in the industry and around the township. Death records were obtained for the period 1950–2004. Standardised mortality ratios (SMRs) were calculated to compare the Wittenoom women’s mortality with that of the Western Australian female population.
Results: There were 425 deaths, including 30 from malignant mesothelioma. There was excess mortality for all causes of death (SMR = 1.13), all neoplasms (SMR = 1.42), symptoms, signs and ill defined conditions (SMR = 6.35), lung cancer (SMR = 2.15) and pneumoconiosis (SMR = 11.8). Mortality from cancer of the ovary (SMR = 1.52), upper aerodigestive cancers (SMR = 2.70) and tuberculosis (SMR = 5.38) was increased but not significantly. The risk of death from mesothelioma was increased, but not significantly, in residents known to have lived with or washed the clothes of an Australian Blue Asbestos Company asbestos worker (HR = 2.67, 95% CI 0.77 to 9.21; HR = 2.61, 95% CI 0.85 to 7.99, respectively).
Conclusion: Women who were former residents of Wittenoom, exposed to asbestos in their environment or in their home, have excess cancer mortality, including mesothelioma, compared with the Western Australian female population.
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Competing interests: None.
Ethics approval: Ethics approval was obtained from the Human Research Ethics Committee of the University of Western Australia.