Two newly published case studies have drawn a link between malignant mesothelioma and tile production.
The authors of the new report analyzed the cases of two people who contracted mesothelioma after working for a tile manufacturer.
Both people were exposed to talc in their work. This is likely where they encountered the asbestos that may have triggered mesothelioma.
Understanding the Different Types of Tile
Malignant mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos. Before the 1990s, many homes and businesses were built with asphalt or vinyl ‘tiles’ made with asbestos. These types of tiles are still in many older buildings. Disturbing or removing them can pose a risk for mesothelioma.
But the current report focuses on ceramic tile workers. Mesothelioma and tile production of this type are not usually linked. Ceramic tile production does not require asbestos. It may, however, use talc.
According to the talc company, Golcha, “When used as a filler in ceramics, talc can improve the firing characteristics of the greenware and the strength of the finished product.” It can also reduce the processing temperature and firing time, potentially cutting costs.
Talc, Mesothelioma and Tile Production
Talc and asbestos are naturally occurring minerals. They frequently lie close together in the ground. This is how talc can become contaminated with asbestos.
Recent legal cases have highlighted the risk of mesothelioma from personal care products containing talc. But the new case studies of mesothelioma and tile production are the first to focus on this means of exposure.
Pathologists with Dodson Environmental Consulting analyzed lung tissue from the two sick workers. The workers contracted mesothelioma after years of producing tile with talc. Their examination showed why mesothelioma and tile production may go hand-in-hand for some.
“Both were found to have ferruginous bodies in their lung tissues as well as elongated talc fibers/ribbons and elevated numbers of noncommercial amphiboles [asbestos] in their tissues,” states the report.
Ferruginous bodies show up under the microscope as small brown nodules in the alveoli. They are a sign of heavy asbestos exposure.
Another Industry at Risk from Asbestos?
Several industries face a risk of mesothelioma because of asbestos exposure.
Plumbers, electricians, and construction workers have higher rates of mesothelioma. Industrial workers like mechanics and machinery operators may also be at risk. But mesothelioma and tile production have never been linked in this way before.
“To our knowledge, this is the first report of tissue assessment for the presence of elongated mineral particles in individuals whose exposures to talc occurred while working in the manufacture of tile products and who developed the fiber-related cancer – mesothelioma,” states the report.
Only about 2,500 Americans a year are diagnosed with mesothelioma and tile production is a relatively niche industry. But the new report is a reminder that asbestos can pose a threat even in unexpected places.
Dodson, RF, and Poye, LW, “Tissue burden evaluation of elongated mineral particles in two individuals with mesothelioma and whose work history included manufacturing tile”, January 2020, Ultrastructural Pathology, Epub ahead of print, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01913123.2019.1709935?journalCode=iusp20