A new Italian case study highlights the mesothelioma risk to war survivors, including journalists and bystanders.
In an article in BMJ Case Reports, researchers from Rome detail the case of a war journalist who contracted mesothelioma after more than ten years in the field.
The male journalist worked in war zones in the Far and Near East. He inhaled a range of toxic substances including asbestos in the dust and smoke from destroyed buildings.
The new case report is a sobering reminder that bombs and bullets are not the only deadly threats in war-torn regions. Asbestos dust poses an often-overlooked mesothelioma risk to war survivors.
Asbestos and its Link to Mesothelioma
Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral. It is inexpensive, plentiful, lightweight, and strong. It also resists heat and corrosion. Before scientists realized how toxic it was, asbestos was a popular component in construction products.
For decades, companies added asbestos to everything from cement to floor and ceiling tiles to paint and wall board. Asbestos also made good insulation. Pipes, wires, boilers, furnaces, water heaters, and other things that could get hot were often insulated with asbestos. Poorer countries tended to use the most asbestos.
Asbestos is also the primary cause of malignant mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a deadly cancer of internal membranes. There is no cure and many standard treatments do not even slow it down. The mesothelioma risk to war survivors is not often discussed.
When asbestos is left in place, it is unlikely to cause mesothelioma. But when it turns into dust – such as when a building is demolished or bombed in a war – it presents a mesothelioma risk to war survivors who inhaled it. Survivors may not even know about their asbestos exposure until years later.
Understanding the Mesothelioma Risk to War Survivors
The new case report focused on a journalist with a history of asbestos exposure in war zones. The man worked as a war correspondent for more than a decade.
More than 15 years after his last war assignment, the man developed cancer in the roof of his mouth. Then doctors found a malignant pleural mesothelioma tumor. Pleural mesothelioma is mesothelioma on the membrane around the lungs. As tumors grow, they make it harder to breathe.
The authors of the case report hope the report brings more attention to the mesothelioma risk to war survivors, including journalists.
“The safety of war journalists should focus not only on preventing the risk of being killed, but also on providing protection from toxic and carcinogenic agents,” writes author Nicola Magnavita. “Exposure to substances released during the destruction of buildings can also pose a carcinogenic risk for survivors.”
A person does not have to be in a war zone to face a similar mesothelioma risk to war survivors. Anyone who inhales dust from an older building could be at risk. This includes construction workers and even homeowners doing their own renovations.
Many people who were present when the World Trade Center was bombed are now dealing with asbestos-related illnesses. If asbestos is present in a building, expert removal is recommended.
Magnavita, N, et al, “War journalism: an occupational exposure”, October 14, 2021, BMJ Cases Reports, https://casereports.bmj.com/content/14/10/e245165