The man worked for an Italian winemaker from 1960 to 1988. According to the authors of the new report, the winemaker treated the wine for impurities using a filter made of asbestos. As authors Alessandro Nemo and Stefano Silvestri of Florence’s Institute for Study and Prevention of Cancer explain, “The filter was created by dispersing in the wine asbestos fibers followed by diatomite while the wine was circulating several times and clogging a prefilter made of a dense stainless steel net.”
Drs. Nemo and Silvestri report that the asbestos exposure which probably triggered the man’s mesothelioma could have occurred during the mixing of dry chrysotile asbestos fibers into the wine as well as during the filter replacement. The researchers had to estimate the average level of the patient’s exposure and the cumulative dose since winemakers do not typically monitor airborne asbestos fibers.
Although this is the first mesothelioma case associated exclusively with the winemaking business, asbestos exposure in winemaking is not unheard of. Since 1993, the Italian National Mesothelioma Register has recorded 8 cases of mesothelioma where the patient spent at least part of his working life in the winemaking business.
Four of these cases reported using asbestos filters, but all four of those mesothelioma patients had also worked in other jobs that exposed them to asbestos, so no direct correlation could be made between their winemaking exposure and their illness. The authors of the current study, published in The Annals of Occupational Hygiene, conclude, “For the information hitherto available, this is the first mesothelioma case with exclusive exposure in the job of winemaking.”
The case highlights the pervasiveness of asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral once used in dozens of industries. The majority of mesothelioma cases are linked to occupational exposure, but asbestos continues to pose a threat to laypeople as an insulator in older homes and public buildings, as a component of automobile brake pads, and even as part of road gravel dust in some states.
Nemo, A & Silvestri, S, “Mesothelioma in a Wine Cellar Man: Deatiled Descriptin of Working Procedures and Past Asbestos Exposure Estimation”, October 8, 2014, Annals of Occupational Hygiene, Epub ahead of print