Report by Linda Apthorpe COH, FAIOH, Samantha O’Callaghan MAIOH, and Alan Rogers COH, FAIOH.

FAMANZ members were represented at the recent European Mineralogical School, on ‘Naturally Occurring Asbestos (NOA): from Geological to Medical Aspects’ held in Casale Monferrato, Italy.

During the 5-day school, issues surrounding NOA nomenclature and identification were discussed.  Experts also provided technical information on some of the specialised methodologies used for identification such as thin section polarised light microscopy, ramen infrared spectroscopy and the transmission and scanning electron microscopic techniques.

Other topics included:

  • How NOA can be predicted in geological formations by using various models and a thorough understanding the geological processes leading to formation of the non-commercial types of amphiboles and serpentinites
  • Applying various chemical processes for research into understanding how surface properties of NOA and other non-asbestos fibrous minerals can be used to examine, predict and determine bio persistence and dissolution of fibres as a model for predicting effects in lung tissues
  • How factors such as environmental and occupational exposures can lead to the development of asbestos related diseases and cancer

Alan Rogers delivered an interesting presentation on ‘Wittenoom – the Italian Connection’ which linked the exposures and mesothelioma rates for Italian migrants at Wittenoom in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Casale also has links to Australia as during 1955-1960,  Wittenoom crocidolite was shipped to the large Eternit asbestos factory located in the town.  From 1907 to 1986, over 4,000 workers at the factory were exposed to asbestos during manufacture of a large variety of asbestos cement products.  Due to poor working conditions and environmental controls, there were high exposures which has resulted in extremely high rates of asbestos related diseases for the workers and community (currently there is an average of 1 mesothelioma death per week in the town).  Additionally, there was extensive use of the waste asbestos-containing material throughout the local town and surrounding areas, which has also contributed to high disease rates in the area.

Throughout this catastrophic time, the community continues to fight for justice and supports the patients and families with dedicated medical and hospital services, and specialised programmes and facilities.

During the School, various technical tours included a tour of the Eternit factory site (which is now a dedicated parkland), the now closed Balangero chrysotile mine and the nearby nuclear power plant which is undergoing demolition (and dealing with radioactive asbestos waste!).

The School was a fantastic opportunity to learn about many of the more technical aspects of identification and understanding NOA, and to build professional networks with international experts in the field.

Non-radioactive asbestos containing waste at the E.Fermi Nuclear Power Plant.

Some of the Australians at the EMU School.

EMU School tour of the Balangero chrysotile mine site (it was a site requirement to wear prescribed PPE and perform decontamination procedures before leaving).

Orignal article and further details download FAMANZ article – EMU 2019