High Rates of Mesothelioma in Italy Decades After Asbestos Ban

More than a third of countries recognized by the United Nations have banned asbestos, and many more have limited asbestos use. Nevertheless, historical uses of asbestos are still affecting many people around the world. 

Asbestos was commonly used in construction materials, because it made whatever it was in was a lot stronger and more durable as well as fire and heat resistant. But asbestos causes many dangerous diseases, such as mesothelioma and asbestosis, and is no longer widely used for that reason. 

During the 1900s, asbestos was widely used, and was put in many different construction materials. By the 1960s, the dangerous diseases caused by asbestos were widely known. Yet many companies continued to use the dangerous carcinogen. 

Even though countries such as the United Kingdom and Italy ban asbestos, residents of these countries continue to suffer from asbestos related disease. 

A small town in Northwest Italy is a great example of this. It’s name is Broni, and from 1932 to 1993, when Italy banned asbestos, it was home to the second-largest asbestos cement factory in Italy. 

Broni is a province of Pavia, Lombardy and has about 9,000 citizens. The asbestos factory that used to be in the town was named Fibronit, and is what the town is best known for. In the 1960s, asbestos was at its peak use. During that time, 100,000 tons of asbestos cement products were produced every year in this factory. 

Fibronit was in operation from 1932 until 1993, but fibers from the asbestos it used are still affecting people today. Because of this, the Italian government has listed the factory as an environmentally-contaminated site. 

To find out the amount of impact the factory has on the town’s citizens and those living nearby, researchers recently collected data from the Lombardy Mesothelioma Registry. This registry is population based and documents mesothelioma cases at the time of diagnosis across the region of Lombardy, Italy. Researchers looked at mesothelioma cases in that area from the year 2000 until 2016. They found historical uses of asbestos still impact not only residents of Broni, but of the neighboring town of Stradella, as well. Sadly, not only were people who worked in the Febronit factory in the past affected. Over this seventeen year sample period, researchers only expected there to be about 17 cases of mesothelioma. But there 211 reported cases of the disease, 194 more cases than expected.

Only one in every eight cases of the cancer when the exposure was occupational were women. There was a total of 56 cases from occupational exposure. Familial exposure, though, was much more prominent in females: 29 of the 39 cases were women diagnosed with the disease. There were 123 cases of mesothelioma from environmental exposure, 85 in women, and the remaining 38 in men. These cases of mesothelioma include residents of Broni, Stradella, and the greater Lombardy area. 

In 1993, the asbestos cement factory stopped using asbestos. But the risk of asbestos exposure is still high in that area, and the health risks related to asbestos are no small thing. 

Something like this has occurred in Libby, Montana. There, W.R. Grace ran an asbestos mill, which continued until 1990. In this area, there is more asbestos related disease than usual, even among those who did not experience occupational exposure. 

Researchers see similar things happening in countries with and without asbestos bans. In the coming years, they expect more instances of asbestos related disease in former Fibronit factory workers and their families. This may either be from long latency, or continuing asbestos exposure. 75 percent of cases are attributed to second hand (familial or environment exposure), so researchers are emphasizing that it is important to study the impact of asbestos exposure on everyone in the community.

For more information visit: mesothelioma.com

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