Turin, Italy—Researchers in Italy have discovered a higher incidence of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma among former workers at an open pit asbestos mine near Turin. The Balangero mine, which was once the largest open pit asbestos mine in Europe, closed in 1990.
Since then, medical researchers have been following its former miners, in order to track the long-term health effects associated with this work. Four medical institutions were involved with the study, the results of which were recently published in the scientific journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine. The researchers found that there was a significantly higher than average death rate among the miners, from both pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma. All of the mesothelioma cases occurred more than 30 years after exposure, and a majority of the miners stricken by this disease had experienced long-term (over 20 years) exposure to asbestos dust.
Mesothelioma is notable for its long latency period; although the asbestos fibers may have been embedded in the tissue lining the lungs for decades, the cancer that they cause may not surface for a long time. It is usually only diagnosed in the latest stages, when treatment is ineffective. Most patients who have this form of cancer die within a few months of their diagnosis.
Interestingly, the study also noted an increased association between asbestos exposure and laryngeal cancer, confirming the suspicions of researchers working for the United States Institute of Medicine. Those miners who were studied experienced an 80 percent increase above the norm in the number of deaths from laryngeal cancer. Mesothelioma has long been associated closely with asbestos exposure, which is one of the reasons that asbestos mining, and the use of asbestos-containing materials, has been closely regulated for the past 20-30 years in much of the developed world.
Unfortunately, due to asbestos’s low cost and many practical uses, it continues to be mined and exported to underdeveloped nations. This concerns many researchers, who fear that an upswing in asbestos-related diseases in those areas of the world will occur within the next century.