249941 Back to the future: Understanding past exposures to inform future practice

Sunday, October 30, 2011

John Wierzbowski, MSc, MPH , School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Fran Barg, PhD , Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Edward Emmett, MD, MS , Occupational Medicine Silverstein, Ground Floor, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Background: Asbestos exposure is a well-recognized cause of malignant and non-malignant disease worldwide. Although production has declined significantly in the US, some occupational exposure continues in the US and worldwide. Policies to protect the current workforce have been informed by our understanding of past industrial exposures studied from an epidemiological perspective; however, we have used an ethnographic approach to identify the contextual factors that influence workplace exposures over time. Methods: We employed qualitative methodology to explore the experiences of workers working in the asbestos industry from the 1940s to present, and perspectives of family members who were often victims of secondary exposure. We examined the plant conditions at the Old Keasbey and Mattison asbestos manufacturing site located in Ambler, Pennsylvania. A comprehensive document analysis of 101 relevant documents and 6 semi-structured interviews were conducted. Data were entered into NVIVO 9.0 software and analyzed employing grounded theory. Results: Findings include: Evidence that asbestos exposures, sample testing and medical surveillance evolved over time, in part as a reaction to legislation, and the ways in which plant culture hindered adoption of safety and health interventions in the workplace and altered perceptions of risk. Conclusion: Examination of temporal patterns of asbestos exposure allow for deeper understanding of the historical context at this landmark industrial workplace. This information may inform new environmental and occupational health policy and provide a gateway into factors that influence exposures in the workplace. This approach serves as a template for ways that ethnographic approaches can inform occupational health and safety.

Learning Areas:
Environmental health sciences
Occupational health and safety
Other professions or practice related to public health
Public health or related research

Learning Objectives:
1. To describe the characteristics of occupational, household and community/recreational exposure to asbestos for residents of West and South Ambler during the ~1940 to present period. 2. Determine Inventory of industrial activities and qualitative and quantitative community and industrial exposure to asbestos in West and South Ambler (including related occupational exposures) from ~1940 to present. 3.To describe other environmental and occupational health factors potentially impacting on the health of West and South Ambler residents during the ~1940-present period.

Keywords: Occupational Exposure, Environmental Exposures

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am an MPH candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, and have been in the Occupational and Environmental Health and Safety field for 11 years, as well as a Master of Science in Environmental Health and Industrial Hygiene from Temple University in 2004.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.