Residents who worked in or lived near an asbestos cement factory in Italy are still suffering the effects of toxic pollution decades later.
Separate studies in two environmental health journals this month highlight the ongoing problem. Both show there are more mesothelioma cases in these regions than in the rest of Italy. This is true even though Italy banned asbestos 30 years ago.
One study concentrates on people who worked in an asbestos cement factory. The other focuses on mesothelioma patients whose only exposure was through air pollution near a factory
The Deadly Legacy of Asbestos in Broni
The Fibronit asbestos cement company operated plants in Bari and Broni, Italy.
Broni is a town of about 9.000 people. The asbestos cement factory operated there from 1932 to 1993. Researchers combed a national mesothelioma database to find cases in and around Broni. They included plant workers, their families, and anyone who lived in the area when the plant was open.
The research team identified almost 200 extra cases of malignant mesothelioma in the area between 2000 and 2016.
“The mesothelioma burden related to the asbestos cement factory is still high on factory workers, their families, and residents,” concludes the study in Environmental Research. The scientists recommend continuous monitoring of mesothelioma cases in the area.
Asbestos Cement Factory Left Polluted Air in Bari
Bari is a much larger city in Southern Italy. It was home to an even bigger asbestos cement operation.
Researchers at the University of Bari Medical School studied a cluster of mesothelioma cases in the area. These 71 cases occurred in people who had never worked around asbestos or lived with an asbestos worker. Their only exposure was through asbestos dust in the air.
The researchers found that the risk for mesothelioma was high whether a person lived just 10 m or 1000 m from the asbestos cement factory. People with asbestos exposure longer than 21 years had just as high a mesothelioma risk as those exposed for more than 40 years.
“This study provided evidence of a continuing health impact of the Fibronit asbestos cement factory in Bari on the resident population,” concludes the report.
A Warning for Other Cities
The current studies focus on just two regions. But their findings are relevant for people around the world.
Many countries, including the US, mined asbestos and produced asbestos cement. These new studies show that mesothelioma risk stays high for decades after a plant closes.
Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral. Asbestos cement factories added the powdered mineral to cement to make it stronger. The process sometimes produced clouds of toxic dust. If a person inhales asbestos dust, the fibers can stay in the lungs indefinitely. Eventually, the irritation and inflammation they cause can trigger mesothelioma.
Consonni, D, et al, “Impact of an asbestos cement factory on mesothelioma incidence in a community in Italy”, April 2020, Environmental Research, Epub ahead of print, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0013935119307650
Vimercati, L, et al, “Asbestos Air Pollution: Description of a Mesothelioma Cluster Due to Residential Exposure from an Asbestos Cement Factory”, April 12, 2020, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/17/8/2636