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Original article
Are children more vulnerable to mesothelioma than adults? A comparison of mesothelioma risk among children and adults exposed non-occupationally to blue asbestos at Wittenoom
  1. Alison Reid1,
  2. Peter Franklin2,
  3. Geoffrey Berry3,
  4. Susan Peters2,4,5,
  5. Nita Sodhi-Berry2,3,
  6. Fraser Brims6,7,
  7. Arthur William Musk2,
  8. Nicholas H de Klerk2,8
  1. 1 School of Public Health, Curtin University, Bentley, Western Australia, Australia
  2. 2 School of Public and Global Health, University of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia, Australia
  3. 3 Sydney School of Public Health, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  4. 4 Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands
  5. 5 Department of Neurology, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands
  6. 6 Faculty of Health Sciences, Curtin Medical School, Curtin University, Bentley, Western Australia, Australia
  7. 7 Department of Respiratory Medicine, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Perth, Western Australia, Australia
  8. 8 Telethon Kids Institute, University of Western Australia, Crawley, Western Australia, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Alison Reid, School of Public Health, Curtin University, Bentley, WA 6102, Australia; alison.reid{at}


Objectives The presence of asbestos in public buildings is a legacy of past asbestos use in many developed countries. Of particular concern is the amount and current condition in schools and the vulnerability of children to mesothelioma. Our aim was to compare the risk of mesothelioma between those exposed to blue asbestos as children and as adults at Wittenoom.

Methods Public sources were used to establish the Wittenoom residents’ cohort. Mesothelioma incidence rates per 100 000 person-years at risk were derived for those first exposed to asbestos at Wittenoom as children (<15 years) or adults separately. Proportional hazards survival models examined the slope of the exposure-response relationship between asbestos exposure and incidence of mesothelioma in different sex and age groups.

Results The mesothelioma rate was lower among those first exposed as children (76.8 per 100 000) than those first exposed as adults (121.3 per 100 000). Adjusting for cumulative exposure to asbestos and sex, those exposed as adults had a greater risk of mesothelioma (adjusted HR 2.5, 95% CI 1.7 to 3.7). The slope of the exposure-response relationship did not differ between those exposed as children and those exposed as adults.

Conclusion We found no greater susceptibility to mesothelioma among those first exposed to asbestos as children than those first exposed as adults. However, given the long latency of mesothelioma, and the greater years of life yet to be lived by the Wittenoom children, it is likely that there will be more cases of mesothelioma in the future among those first exposed as children.

  • mesothelioma
  • blue asbestos
  • children
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  • Contributors AR undertook the data analysis in conjunction with NHK and NSB. All authors contributed to data interpretation. AR drafted the manuscript and all authors contributed to its development.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Ethics approval Human Research Ethics Committee of the University of Western Australia.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Applications for access to the data can be made to AR.

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