A case study of asbestos exposure in a worker at a small furniture factory in Italy, who died of pleural malignant mesothelioma, highlights the importance of an accurate reconstruction of the occupational history in mesothelioma cases and the necessity of safety measures in the workplace.
The study by researchers at the University of Pavia, titled “Pleural mesothelioma: Case-report of uncommon occupational asbestos exposure in a small furniture industry,” was published in the International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health.
Exposure to asbestos, a group of minerals that occurs naturally as fiber bundles in soil and rocks, is the leading cause of malignant mesothelioma (MM), especially pleural mesothelioma, a rare and very aggressive cancer that starts in the specialized cells that line body organs and structures. If inhaled, asbestos fibers can deposit in the lungs, small airways and the pleural lining, where they can cause severe damage and lead to mesothelioma.
Occupational exposure, especially among men, is thought to account for the majority of MM cases. However, past asbestos exposure is not always easy to detect because of the disease’s long latency (typically, 30 years) and because workplace exposure may be unexpected.
The research team aimed to highlight unusual or unexpected workplace exposure, and to stress the importance of careful work history reconstruction when dealing with MM cases, namely for legal and financial compensation purposes.
Team members described the case of a small furniture factory worker, who was diagnosed at 70 years old with sarcomatoid pleural mesothelioma and subsequently died of the disease. The furniture industry is not considered as a traditional work environment with a high risk of asbestos exposure, however, the worker was eventually found to be exposed to asbestos cement tubes used in the assembly of furniture with a classical architecture.
Occupational reconstruction indicated that, during the man’s six years of work, specific safety measures were not applied and masks or local aspirators were not used in the factory. Despite this atypical exposure case, the occupational origin of the man’s disease was determined based on its latency, exposure duration, and clinical and histochemical features, all of which consistent with literature on the subject.
“This report provides further proofs of the importance of a comprehensive reconstruction of occupational exposure, especially in those MM cases, in which the link with a productive branch known to be asbestos-exposing is not clearly evident,” the researchers concluded.