Critical Reviews in Toxicology. 2014 May 7. [Epub ahead of print] [Link]
Anderson EL, Chang ET, Hoel DG, Lau EC, Moolgavkar SH, Turnham P.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently conducted a risk assessment for exposure to Libby amphibole asbestos that is precedent-setting for two reasons. First, the Agency has not previously conducted a risk assessment for a specific type of asbestos fiber. Second, the risk assessment includes not only an inhalation unit risk (IUR) for the cancer endpoints, but also a reference concentration (RfC) for nonmalignant disease. In this paper, we review the procedures used by the Agency for both cancer and nonmalignant disease and discuss the strengths and limitations of these procedures. The estimate of the RfC uses the benchmark dose method applied to pleural plaques in a small subcohort of vermiculite workers in Marysville, Ohio. We show that these data are too sparse to inform the exposure-response relationship in the low-exposure region critical for estimation of an RfC, and that different models with very different exposure-response shapes fit the data equally well. Furthermore, pleural plaques do not represent a disease condition and do not appear to meet the EPA’s definition of an adverse condition. The estimation of the IUR for cancer is based on a subcohort of Libby miners, discarding the vast majority of lung cancers and mesotheliomas in the entire cohort and ignoring important time-related factors in exposure and risk, including effect modification by age. We propose that an IUR based on an endpoint that combines lung cancer, mesothelioma, and nonmalignant respiratory disease (NMRD) in this cohort would protect against both malignant and nonmalignant disease. However, the IUR should be based on the entire cohort of Libby miners, and the analysis should properly account for temporal factors. We illustrate our discussion with our own independent analyses of the data used by the Agency.