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Mesothelioma Among Construction Workers in Southern Italy

mesothelioma among construction workers

New research in Southern Italy highlights the global problem of mesothelioma among construction workers. 

The research comes from occupational medicine experts at the University of Bari. 

Scientists studied 178 cases of mesothelioma among construction workers in the Apulia region of Italy. The data shows that heavy asbestos exposure raised the odds of contracting mesothelioma by more than two-and-a-half times. 

Asbestos and the Risk for Mesothelioma

Asbestos is the primary cause of mesothelioma, in Italy and around the world. But for decades, almost no one knew that. 

Tens of thousands of people worked with asbestos before scientists recognized the risk for mesothelioma among construction workers. 

Asbestos was in dozens of construction products including cement, wall board, insulation, floor and ceiling tiles and even paint. Construction workers in Italy used asbestos in many forms before it was banned in the 1990s. 

Risk for Mesothelioma Among Construction Workers Persists

Even though Italy no longer allows asbestos in new construction, the threat is not gone. There is still a risk of asbestos exposure during remodeling or demolition.

The Bari researchers wanted to determine how high that risk is. They studied 178 men diagnosed with mesothelioma between 1993 and 2018. The average age at diagnosis was 64.7. Ninety-six percent of the patients had pleural mesothelioma

Most patients first encountered asbestos between 1941 and 1970. In many cases, the workers were just teenagers at the time. Most of them worked around asbestos for an average of 24 years. It took an average of 44 years for mesothelioma among construction workers to develop. 

The odds of developing mesothelioma were two-and-a-half times higher among patients with the longest asbestos exposure

“The data underline the need for prevention and information on all activities involving construction workers in which asbestos-containing materials are still used,” writes lead researcher Luigi Vimercati. 

Changing the Odds for Construction Professionals

In the US, most homes and buildings constructed before 1981 are assumed to contain some asbestos. They pose a risk for workers who disturb this asbestos for any reason.

But not all companies are diligent about preventing mesothelioma among construction workers. Workers themselves should watch for asbestos and insist on proper protection. Construction tradespeople remain one of the most at-risk groups for malignant mesothelioma.


Vimercati, L, et al, “Malignant mesothelioma in construction workers: the Apulia regional mesothelioma register, Southern Italy”, September 30, 2019, BMC Research Notes, https://bmcresnotes.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13104-019-4675-4

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