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Railways and Asbestos in Japan (1928-1987) -Epidemiology of Pleural Plaques, Malignancies and Pneumoconioses

Journal of Occupational Health. 2008 May 21. [Epub ahead of print] [Link]

Hosoda Y, Hiraga Y, Sasagawa S.

Formerly Japan National Railways Central Health Institute.

Abstract

Asbestos has been an indispensable insulating material for railway industries, especially steam locomotives (SLs). This review (1928-1987) consists of three parts.

  1. Pleural plaques: Since the 1970s, pleural plaques have been regarded as evidence of past asbestos inhalation, and more recently recognized as a risk factor of asbestos-related malignancies. For diagnostic criteria on plain radiographs, the modified ILO 1980 International Classification of Radiographs of Pneumoconioses was used. Most cases had pleural plaques with normal lungs. Large plant workers showed a significantly higher rate of plaques than workers in smaller plants. Bilateral plaques were dominant followed by the left, then the right lung, and chest wall plaques were dominant over the diaphragm. The manifestation of pleural plaques was more correlated to years since the onset of the asbestos exposure than the sum of asbestos work years, although the result was not significant. The boilermen of railway ferry steamers had a significantly higher plaque rate than other seamen. CT studies on plaques started in 1978.
  2. Asbestos-related malignancies: Five retrospective cohort studies 1960-1970 were made on primary lung cancer incidence and mortality among 350,000 active railway men with smoking information. The follow-up period was 20 yr at the longest. Almost all plant workers showed a tendency of higher incidence or mortality than the controls. Two cases of mesothelioma were reported in 1980.
  3. Pneumoconioses: Most studies (1928-1975) had relatively low prevalence rates among SL-related workers.

Keywords: Asbestos, Railways, Workers, Pleural plaques, Epidemiology, Lung cancer, Mesothelioma, Pneumoconioses

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