Worker Health Study Summaries – Asbestos

Research on long-term exposure

Asbestos Textile, Friction, and Packing Plant Workers (Asbestos)


Study Background

During the 1970s, NIOSH conducted a study of workers at an asbestos textile, friction, and packing plant who were exposed to asbestos.

If you have any questions or would like a copy of the study report, please call the NIOSH toll-free number at 800-356-4674.

How the Study Was Done

This study of asbestos workers was done entirely with records. NIOSH used personnel records to identify who worked at the plant.

We used death certificates to find out what workers died of. Then we compared the death rates in workers to death rates in the general U.S. population.

The U.S. rates gave us the number of expected deaths in workers. When the number of deaths is greater than the expected number, then a workplace association is suspected.

What the Study Found

The study results only cover the period through 1975. The study group included 2,722 men and 554 women.

Lung Cancer

NIOSH found 49 deaths from lung cancer among men. About 36 were expected. Based on U.S. rates, there were 14 deaths among women, with fewer than 2 expected.

It has been known for several decades that asbestos exposure can cause lung cancer.


Mesothelioma is a very rare type of cancer. It is a cancer of the lining of the chest or abdomen. Asbestos exposure is the main cause of mesothelioma.

We found 13 deaths from mesothelioma in men and 4 in women.

Mesothelioma is so rare it is not possible to estimate a number of expected deaths.

Mesothelioma usually appears 30 to 40 years after exposure to asbestos.


Asbestosis (scarring of the lungs) is a serious non-cancer type of lung disease that causes breathing problems. It is caused by breathing in asbestos fibers.

NIOSH found 76 deaths in men of various kinds of lung diseases, including asbestosis.

About 16 deaths were expected based on U.S. rates. We found 14 deaths in women, with less than 1 expected.

Heart Disease

We found 375 deaths in men from heart disease. About 315 were expected from this common cause of death. There were 38 deaths among women, with about 30 expected.

While there was only a small increase in deaths among workers compared to U.S. rates, some of these deaths may have been related to asbestos-caused lung disease.

This is because lung problems can in turn cause heart problems.

Steps to Protect Your Health

Medical Exam

If you haven’t had a medical exam for asbestos-related illnesses, it would be a good idea to do so.

Be sure to see your doctor if you have chest symptoms such as shortness of breath, persistent cough, or chest pain.

This does not mean you have a serious illness. Many less serious problems can also cause these symptoms.

But it is best to see your doctor to be sure. Tell your doctor that you were exposed to asbestos in the past.

If you would like to see a doctor who specializes in occupational diseases, call the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics at 202-347-4976 for a list of occupational medicine clinics.


It’s very important not to smoke cigarettes! Smoking greatly increases the risk of lung cancer in asbestos-exposed people. This cannot be emphasized enough!

Smoking also causes heart problems.

For classes on quitting smoking, call the American Cancer Society at 800-227 2345 or the American Lung Association at 800-586-4872.


Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, especially orange, red, dark green and pink varieties such as carrots, tomatoes, spinach, oranges, and peaches.

There is evidence that eating food from plants helps people avoid cancer. It may even help prevent breathing problems.

How Concerned Should You Be?

Most importantly, not everyone exposed to asbestos gets sick!

We wanted you to be aware of the risk of asbestos diseases, but that does not mean you will become ill. You should be alert for potential problems without being unduly alarmed.


Robinson C, Lemen R, Wagoner J (1979). Mortality Patterns, 1940-1975 Among Workers Employed in an Asbestos Textile Friction and Packing Products Manufacturing Facility. In: DUSTS and DISEASE, Pathotox Publishers: 132-143.

Page last reviewed: April 8, 2020