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How Italy’s Asbestos Ban Can Influence US Asbestos Legislation

Key takeaways: Italy banned asbestos in 1992 and instituted a national registry, which tracks mesothelioma cases. Despite this, Italian construction workers—who directly handle asbestos, either knowingly or unknowingly—are still suffering from asbestos-related diseases, like mesothelioma. Italy hasn’t introduced removal initiatives or provided education about the dangers of asbestos. These pitfalls can be used to inform American policy and asbestos legislation.


Why Italy?

Italy banned asbestos in 1992—a good three decades before the United States did in early 2024. This means that Italy’s governments and citizens have had time to both strategize and implement
solutions to solve their asbestos problem. Italy has instituted a national registry, which is a list of resources and existing mesothelioma patients accessible to the general public. This helps citizens
a.) assess where there might be asbestos in their community; b.) connect patients in similar situations; and c.) hold companies and employers accountable for using asbestos. Despite a national registry, Italy’s instance of mesothelioma (and other asbestos-caused diseases) hasn’t diminished to the point of reflecting the ban. A recent (Vimercati et al., 2023) study assessed the instance of asbestos-related disease in Italian construction workers from 1993-2018, and their findings were dismal. While there was a decrease in mesothelioma in some places, there were increases in other places, meaning that the ban and registry weren’t enough. Notably, Italy didn’t design or enforce a removal plan, and has instead taken to allowing individuals and communities to handle asbestos.

Why is it important to look to other countries When it Comes to Asbestos Legislation?

Comparable to the U.S. in terms of its asbestos use and lack of codified asbestos removal plans and asbestos legislation, Italy might be able to show the trajectory of asbestos-related disease and death in the U.S. if federal and local governments don’t take action. A public health review study (Marsili et al., 2017) proposed new initiatives for Italy, considering the discrepancy between the ban and the still urgent issue of asbestos. They suggested:

1. Community-based initiatives; i.e., framing asbestos as a public health concern to an entire community, not just construction workers.

2. Education about the dangers and serious risks associated with existing asbestos.

3. Explicit policies for handling asbestos in the community, as designed and upheld by local governments.

4. Promoting and allocating funding for more research on mesothelioma clinical trials, mesothelioma’s development, and the ways to safely manage asbestos.

As the U.S. moves forward with asbestos removal and disposal, policy makers should keep these initiatives in mind when thinking about asbestos litigation.

Can construction & asbestos workers protect themselves?

Besides public policy that aims to protect citizens, construction workers and abatement specialists need to be educated about the very real dangers of asbestos. These people are at the highest risk for direct exposure, given that they deal with and repair older buildings (which likely contain asbestos).

The 2023 study reviewing Italian workers suggested that construction workers might have underestimated the dangers of asbestos and/or not known that they were present in the buildings
they were working on. They also suggested “incomplete compliance,” like refusing to use personal protective equipment (PPE) or directly handling asbestos without protection. Another study (Belackova et al, 2024) assessed the efficacy of different types of PPE, including full face masks, supplied air respirators (SARs), and powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs). Although this is novel research—their results were somewhat inconclusive—it’s important that research is focusing on mitigating risk and spreading awareness. If it can be demonstrated that a.) asbestos is more pervasive than construction workers believe; and b.) PPE does protect them, then there are opportunities to protect construction workers, who are currently at the highest risk of developing asbestos-related diseases. So, by combining education, a national registry, effective PPE, and legislation, the U.S. can handle the domestic asbestos problem.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, please call The Halpern Law Firm at 1 (800) 505-6000. We are here to help you navigate the legal process of filing a claim to receive compensation for your cancer diagnosis. We help mesothelioma victims and their families in Pennsylvania.

Sources:

https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD015158.pub2/abstract

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10281067/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5708018/#:~:text=The%20work%20of%20the%20Italian,was%20preceded%20by%20Decree%20n.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5830562/#:~:text=Italian%20National%20Register%20of%20Malignant,cases%20from%20health%20care%20structures

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