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Are Women More Vulnerable to Mesothelioma from Environmental Asbestos?

1723742_cementAlthough the study did find an elevated number of mesothelioma cases among plant workers, the biggest mesothelioma burden was among their spouses and other women who lived in the region. Almost half of the mesothelioma cases linked to the factory could be attributed to environmental, rather than occupational, exposure.

Researchers with the Department of Preventive Medicine in Milan and the National Heart & Lung Institute at Imperial College London calculated mesothelioma incidence connected to an asbestos cement factory that operated in Broni, Italy from 1932 to 1993. Their goal was to compare the percentage of cases among the workers themselves with the number of cases among their families and those who simply lived near the plant. Data was collected between 2000 and 2011.

The team identified 147 cases of mesothelioma attributable to exposure from the factory, including 138 pleural and 9 peritoneal (on the abdominal lining). Thirty-eight mesothelioma cases occurred among factory workers but nearly as many – 37 cases – occurred among their family members, especially wives, who were likely exposed to asbestos fibers on the workers’ dirty work clothes.

But the highest incidence of mesothelioma in the Broni area was among people who did not work at the plant or live with a worker. Seventy-two residents of Broni and the nearby town of Stradella were diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma and more than half (49) of them were women. The study concludes that women who did not work at the factory had the greatest negative impact from the toxic asbestos used in the Broni cement plant.

Exposure to asbestos dust is the primary cause of mesothelioma, an aggressive form of lung cancer, worldwide. Asbestos was once used in a wide range of insulation and construction products and was often added to cement to improve strength and durability. While asbestos regulations implemented in the 1980s have helped to slowly reduce the incidence of mesothelioma in the U.S., the number of new mesothelioma cases is still growing in some countries, including Italy.

The findings were published in Environment International.


Mensi, C, “Impact of an asbestos cement factory on mesothelioma incidence: Global assessment of effects of occupational, familial, and environmental exposure”, January 2015, Environment International, pp. 191-199.

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