People who migrated to Australia from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Italy, and Germany had significantly higher mesothelioma death rates between 1981 and 2012 than those born in Australia, a study indicates.
Immigrants from those countries who arrived before 1970 may have worked in occupations in Australia that carried greater risk of exposure to asbestos, the researchers said.
The study, “Variations in mesothelioma mortality rates among migrants to Australia and Australian-born,” was published in Ethnicity & Health.
Australia has the highest rates of malignant mesothelioma mortality in the world — a result of the mining, importation, and widespread use of raw and manufactured asbestos products.
By the 1950s, Australia was fourth among industrialized countries in consumption of asbestos products, and first per capita. The consumption leaders were the U.K., United States and France.
At the time, immigration to Australia was booming. More than four million people, mostly from the U.K. and Ireland, migrated between the 1940s and 1970s.
Immigrants were required to remain in Commonwealth-approved, usually labor-intensive occupations for at least two years. They often took in jobs in manufacturing, construction, mining, shipping, airlines, and iron and steel, industries associated with widespread use of asbestos.
To assess if these policies led to differences in mesothelioma mortality between immigrants and native-born Australians over the past three decades, researchers at Curtin University and the University of Western Australia examined mesothelioma deaths in the country from 1981 to 2002 and 2006 to 2012. Those were cross-referenced with census data to examine differences in mesothelioma death rates by country of birth.
Over the three decades, 9,339 people died from malignant mesothelioma in Australia, and mortality rates increased over the period. Male deaths were four times higher than female. Those 65 and older or those who had lived in Australia more than 10 years had higher mortality rates.
Immigrants born in the U.K., Ireland, Italy, and Germany had higher mesothelioma mortality rates than native-born Australians. Adjusting the data by sex, age, and number of years living in Australia, researchers came up with a mortality rate of 17.98 per million people for immigrants from the U.K. and Ireland. Immigrants from Italy had a mortality rate of 14.88 per million and from Germany 15.91 per million. The mortality rates for native-born Australians was 10.79 per million.
Immigrants from other countries had lower mortality rates.
“Our findings suggest that migrants who arrived before 1970 may have been working in jobs where the risk of exposure to asbestos was greater than jobs in which Australian-born worked,” the researchers wrote.
They noted, however, that immigration policy had changed considerably since the 1970s. That suggested that further comparisons could identify additional occupational health differences between immigrants and native-born Australians.