Nature and extent of the exposure to fibrous amphiboles in Biancavilla

The Science of the Total Environment. 2006 Jun 24; [Epub ahead of print] [Link]

Bruni BM, Pacella A, Mazziottitagliani S, Gianfagna A, Paoletti L.

Dipartimento di Tecnologie e Salute, Istituto Superiore di Sanita, V. le Regina Elena 299-00161 Roma, Italy.


An epidemiological and environmental study in the Biancavilla area (Sicily, Italy) was recently prompted by an impressively high incidence of malignant pleural mesothelioma. Epidemiology suggested an environmental contamination by amphibole fibres rather than risks related to a specific occupational activity. The aim of this study is to describe the diffusion of fibrous amphiboles in the area and identify their source. Fibrous amphiboles were found in the products from the local quarries, which had been used for years to build houses. After sampling all around Biancavilla, three sites were detected and they were characterized by an abundant presence of mineral fibres. Fibrous amphiboles were also recovered from building materials (mortar and plasters) and airborne particulates sampled in urban sites with high dust emissions due mainly to unpaved roads. Moreover, amphibole fibres were detected in the lung tissue of a woman who died of pleural mesothelioma. The results of this study suggest that the amphibole fibre diffusion in the Biancavilla environment lasted for many years and had been maximum during the sixties and the seventies with the uncontrolled development of the local building industry. Today, the environmental situation results to be changed following both the closing of the stone quarries and the urbanization works after 2001, above all the asphalting of dusty roads. Anyway sporadic mesothelioma cases have still to be expected in the next years.