The productive district of textile asbestos in the Lower Iseo Lake area

Epidemiologia e Prevenzione. 2007 Jul-Aug;31(4 Suppl 1):10-5. [Link]

Caironi M, Polini S, Storto T, Bertoli M.

Servizio prevenzione e sicurezza ambienti di lavoro, ASL Bergamo, via Borgo Palazzo 130, 24125 Bergamo.


In the Bergamo area of Basso Sebino (lower Lake Iseo), for decades there has been a large concentration of small firms (mostly family-run), specialised in the production of rubber gaskets. Within this production field, some companies used to manufacture textile asbestos exclusively or as part of their business. The asbestos goods were therefore marketed as they were or subsequently cut and transformed into gaskets. Among the 5 companies involved, "Manifattura Colombo & C" was the first one that started this production in the district, and the one that engaged the greatest number of employees (considering both the Sarnico and Predore factories). In the Predore factory, operating from the fifties to 1979, the asbestos thread production was carried out exclusively and to the complete technological cycle (i.e. from crashing the raw asbestos that was brought in from Balangero). The whole process was performed in an extremely dusty environment (according to the witness of former workers), expecially during the first production steps. In the Sarnico factory which operated from 1920 to 1993, they produced textile asbestos items (laces, ropes, etc.), as well as rubber and metal gaskets. The latter were coupled with asbestos by means of metal-plastics co-moulding operations, in order to obtain gaskets highly resistant to exhaust vapours, gases, oils, solvents and so on. The environmental data available (referred to the 1980-1992 period), supply evidence of severe exposure in the first years of activity, whilst a sharp reduction in the asbestos-fiber concentration rate was achieved along the years, thanks mainly to the completion and improvement of exhaust systems installed on winding and braiding machines. Finally we shortly describe the work of the four other factories and in more detail that of the "Manifattura Sebina srl" is mentioned herein because, although this is a "typical" textile mill and exclusively manufacturing cotton products, a considerable number of cases of mesothelioma has been detected among its workforce. This has been attributed to the presence of asbestos insulated piping, to maintenance and replacement interventions on looms brake pads, and above all to the nearly 50 asbestos blankets that were employed in the weekly fire-fighting exercises, and usually leaned against the walls of departments, with no protection whatsoever.