Asbestos is recognised worldwide as the only known cause of asbestos related mesothelioma, an incurable cancer which affects the protective sheaths surrounding the lungs and stomach. However, one leading Italian asbestos professional explains that people who work with another commonly used mineral may also be at risks of developing fatal, malignant mesothelioma.

Asbestos usage was banned in the UK in 1999 and on a global basis, has now been outlawed in 55 countries, due to its connection to incurable asbestos related conditions such as pleural thickening, asbestosis, asbestos related lung cancer and of course, mesothelioma.

Despite this, an article published in the Annals of Italy’s Institute of Health highlights that many thousands of people who work with a mineral known as feldspar may be unknowingly exposed to asbestos dust, potentially leading to a diagnosis of mesothelioma in later life.

Feldspar is essentially a group of minerals which is thought to make up the majority of the earth’s crust.

Amazingly, over 21 million tonnes of this mineral are mined and marketed on a global basis to be used in the manufacture of glass and ceramics. The mineral is also used as a form of filler in some paints, rubbers and plastics.

Fulvio Cavariani of Italy’s Central Regional Asbestos Centre states that, although feldspar has never been formally connected to mesothelioma itself, a “significant presence” of blue and brown asbestos fibres known as “amphibole asbestos” have been found in mineral powders created from the milling of feldspar rocks taken from a Sardinian mine.

Such asbestos contamination is concerning and raises doubts about how safe people are when working with feldspar dust.

To minimise the risk of people developing asbestos related mesothelioma, workers now have to wear specialist protective personal equipment including full boiler suits, heavy duty gloves and battery operated respirators. Whilst such health and safety provisions apply for any work relating to asbestos, no such protection has been advised in respect of the use of feldspar in the workplace.

Cavariani added:- “ Until now, the presence of tremolite asbestos in feldspar has not been described nor has the possibility of such a health hazard for workers involved in mining, milling and the handling of rocks from feldspar ores been appreciated.”

The expert’s illuminating comments look to promote improved education relating to the potential major health risk, especially among those employed as mineralogists and industrial hygienists.

Those exposed to asbestos fibres in the past would not normally have the misfortune of developing asbestos related conditions for between 10 and 40 years following their exposure to the harmful material due to the conditions’ long latency periods.

It is essential that workers are protected from breathing in harmful asbestos dust in whatever form this arises.

Source :- Cavariani, Fulvio. “Asbestos contamination is feldspar extraction sites: a failure or prevention?” Jan-Mar 2016, Annali del Instituto Superiore di Sanita, pp. 6-8

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