Cancer incidence and mortality associated with non-occupational and low dose exposure to Libby vermiculite in Minnesota.

Research paper by Tess T Konen, Jean E JE Johnson, Paula P Lindgren, Allan A Williams

Indexed on: 23 Jan '20Published on: 04 Jun '19Published in: Environmental Research


A vermiculite processing plant in a Minneapolis, Minnesota neighborhood utilized asbestos-containing ore from Libby, Montana from the late 1930's until 1989. Multiple pathways of exposure to Libby asbestos were characterized in a cohort of over 6000 plant workers and residents living near the plant. We conducted a cohort linkage study to assess the impact of cumulative low dose exposure and the role of occupational history on asbestos-related mortality and cancer morbidity among cohort members residing near a vermiculite plant. Cohort members alive in 1988 (n = 5848) were linked to the Minnesota Cancer Surveillance System to identify incident cases of mesothelioma, lung cancer, and all-cancer diagnosed from 1988 to 2010. Proportional incidence ratios (PIRs) were calculated for mesothelioma and lung cancer. Vital status and cause of death were ascertained from Minnesota vital records and the National Death Index (1988-2011). Mortality rates of the cohort (2001-2011) for asbestos-related outcomes were compared to the Minnesota population to estimate standardized mortality ratios (SMRs) and stratified by gender, exposure, and occupational history categories. We identified seven cases of mesothelioma, with elevated incidence only in females (PIR = 11.76, 95% CI: 3.17, 30.12). Lung cancer was elevated in both genders: PIR = 1.54 (95% CI: 1.19, 2.0) in males and 1.62 (95% CI: 1.21, 2.12) in females. We found elevated mortality from COPD, lung cancer, and mesothelioma among females (SMR for mesothelioma in females = 18.97, CI: 3.91, 55.45), among the 546 deaths identified. All four deaths from mesothelioma occurred in the >75th percentile of exposure (>0.0156 fiber/cc x months). The SMR for lung cancer and all respiratory cancer was elevated even after controlling for occupation. Community exposure to Libby amphibole asbestos from a vermiculite processing plant is associated with increased risk of COPD, lung cancer and mesothelioma incidence and mortality, most notably among females, and is likely to remain a public health issue for years to come. Published by Elsevier Inc.