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Asbestos-containing materials (ACM) were present in British and Australian naval vessels throughout the twentieth century. The aim of this study was to identify and quantify the incidence of cancer in naval personnel from onboard asbestos exposure. Subjects were four cohorts of subjects who had served in the armed forces of the United Kingdom and Australia in the 1950s and 1960s. All cohorts had previously been studied, three of them in relation to radiation exposures from British nuclear testing. Comparisons of SIRs between services were made to identify cancers attributable to asbestos exposure. Excess mesotheliomas were found in naval personnel in all cohorts. In all but one cohort the lung cancer incidence was highest in navy personnel. Comparison of other smoking-related conditions indicated that the excess in navy personnel was not smoking-related. The relatively high SIRs for mesothelioma and the occurrence of deaths from asbestosis were indicative of high levels of asbestos exposure, with an expectation of cases of asbestos-related lung cancer. The findings are consistent with the occurrence of significant excesses of mesotheliomas. In addition, notwithstanding some inconsistencies in the results between the cohorts, we estimated that approximately 27% of lung cancers in Australian seamen and 12% in British seamen were related to onboard asbestos exposure.

Original publication




Journal article


Scientific Reports


Springer Nature

Publication Date