Applying quality criteria to exposure in asbestos epidemiology increases the estimated risk
Mesothelioma deaths due to environmental exposure to asbestos in The Netherlands led to parliamentary concern that exposure guidelines were not strict enough. The Health Council of the Netherlands was asked for advice. Its report has recently been published. The question of quality of the exposure estimates was studied more systematically than in previous asbestos meta-analyses. Five criteria of quality of exposure information were applied, and cohort studies that failed to meet these were excluded. For lung cancer, this decreased the number of cohorts included from 19 to 3 and increased the risk estimate 3- to 6-fold, with the requirements for good historical data on exposure and job history having the largest effects. It also suggested that the apparent differences in lung cancer potency between amphiboles and chrysotile may be produced by lower quality studies. A similar pattern was seen for mesothelioma. As a result, the Health Council has proposed that the occupational exposure limit be reduced from 10 000 fibres m-3(all types) to 250 f m-3(amphiboles), 1300 f m-3(mixed fibres), and 2000 f m-3(chrysotile). The process illustrates the importance of evaluating quality of exposure in epidemiology since poor quality of exposure data will lead to underestimated risk.