Occupational health researchers in Italy say asbestos exposure in agricultural products and equipment may present a hidden mesothelioma risk for farm workers.
The study appears in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Agriculture is not an industry typically associated with asbestos exposure. But the new study suggests that there may be more of this hidden mesothelioma risk on farms than previously thought.
Occupational Mesothelioma Exposure
Malignant mesothelioma is an occupational disease. Most people diagnosed with this rare cancer worked in an industry that used asbestos. The longer and heavier the exposure, the higher the risk for mesothelioma.
Asbestos was mostly a hidden mesothelioma risk until the 1950s. Mining companies produced asbestos for many industries. The construction industry used it to insulate homes and to strengthen concrete. The mineral also made strong fire-proof roof and floor tiles.
Plumbers, pipefitters, and electricians used asbestos insulation around pipes and wires. People who built or worked on ships also encountered this hidden mesothelioma risk. Many of them were veterans.
But as more asbestos-exposed workers got sick, scientists made the connection between asbestos and mesothelioma. The EPA and OSHA now regulate asbestos handling in the US.
The Hidden Mesothelioma Risk in Agriculture
Agricultural workers might have thought they were safe from asbestos exposure. Most studies show that their risk for mesothelioma is low. But the new Italian study shows some farms may pose a hidden mesothelioma risk.
Researchers in Milan used the malignant mesothelioma registry for the Lombardi region. They found 26 cases of mesothelioma among farm or seed trade workers between 2000 and 2016.
The workers answered a questionnaire to uncover their hidden mesothelioma risk. Researchers discovered that the farm workers encountered asbestos by:
- Handling recycled jute bags that once contained asbestos
- Repairing asbestos roofs
- Doing maintenance on asbestos-containing tractor brake pads
- Handling asbestos filters used in wine production
“Our data suggest asbestos exposure opportunities in the agricultural setting, underlining the need to look for this exposure in subjects affected with mesothelioma,” writes study author Carolina Mensi. Dr. Mensi works in the Occupational Health Unit at Fondazione IRCCS Ca’ Granda Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico.
About 2,500 Americans receive a mesothelioma diagnosis every year. Most can track the source of their asbestos exposure. If that exposure resulted from unsafe working conditions, they may be eligible for compensation.
Mensi, C, et al, “Mesothelioma in Agriculture in Lombardy, Italy: An Unrecognized Risk”, January 5, 2021, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Volume 18, Issue 1, https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/18/1/358