BACKGROUND: Plasterers perform a variety of duties including interior and exterior plastering of drywall, cement, stucco, and stone imitation; the preparation, installation, and repair of all interior and exterior insulation systems; and the fireproofing of steel beams and columns. Some of the current potential toxic exposures among plasterers include plaster of Paris, silica, fiberglass, talc, and 1,1,1-trichloroethylene; asbestos had been used by the plasterers in the past. Cement masons, on the other hand, are involved in concrete construction of buildings, bridges, curbs and gutters, sidewalks, highways, streets and roads, floors and pavements and the finishing of same, when necessary, by sandblasting or any other method. Exposures include cement dust, silica, asphalt, and various solvents. METHODS: Proportionate mortality ratios (PMRs) and proportionate cancer mortality ratios (PCMRs) were calculated for 99 causes of death among 12,873 members of the Operative Plasterers' and Cement Masons' International Association who died between 1972 and 1996 using United States age-, race-, and calender-specific death rates. Statistical significance (P value) of results was based upon the Poisson distribution. RESULTS: Among plasterers, statistically significant elevated mortality was observed for asbestosis, where the PMR reached 1,657 (P < 0.01) with eleven observed deaths and less than one death expected, for lung cancer (PCMR = 124, P < 0.01), and for benign neoplasms (PMR = 210, P < 0.05). Among cement masons, statistically significant elevated mortality was observed for cancer of the stomach (PCMR = 133, P < 0.01), benign neoplasms (PMR = 132, P < 0.01), and poisonings (PMR = 159, P < 0.05). Except for poisonings, which were not thought to be occupationally related, all of the statistically significant results occurred among those members who entered the union prior to 1950. However, the risk for lung cancer among plasterers was still elevated among those entering the union after 1970 as was the risk for stomach cancer among cement masons who entered the union after 1950. CONCLUSIONS: The present study suggests that plasterers and cement masons still have elevated risks for certain diseases, especially lung and stomach cancer. Therefore, union members currently living should be screened for asbestos-related diseases and educated about the future risks for these diseases.
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