Introduction to the initiative of CGIL Trieste against asbestos

by Michele Piga

The province of Trieste has the record for the highest percentage rate of mortality from pleural mesothelioma in Italy: one person dead every six days is the tragic toll of this area to the mortal fiber. This is the reason why we must address a widespread social issue since the peak of the event has not been reached yet.

To define and understand the problem of asbestos in Trieste, it is necessary to retrace the historical structure of production activities as source of exposure that has characterized the period before and after the ban took place, according to Law nr. 257/1992 , which drew a boundary on exposures in the workplace.

The economic activities that have employed a significant number of workers at exposure risks, and sectors, are the following ones:

Naval mechanics, with 22,000 employees

ATSM (Fincantieri)

Shipyard FELSZEGY – Alto Adriatico – San Rocco – Navalgiuliano


Steel industry, with 4,000 employees


Motor factories, with 4,000 employees

GMT (WARTSILA) and former machinery factory FMSant’Andrea

VM Isotta Fraschini

The port of Trieste, with 10,000 employees

Constructions, with 10,000 employees

The petrochemical, with 1,500 employees

Monteshell (540 ) – Contractors ENI – SIOT

Paper Manufacturing, with 2,000 employees

Cartiera Burgo (San Giovanni di Duino)

The resulting list witnesses an involvement, though with very different time scales of exposure, of about 50,000 male and female workers of this province in a period of about 40 years.

Compared to other territories, this considerable diversification and fragmentation, even within certain sectors, gave us quite many problems for a general representation of the overall, both from the certifications and the responsibility points of view.

The fact that the counterpart is a summation between subjects, many of the which no longer exist, has made the path much more complex, and non – homogeneity of phenomena has in fact reduced the thrust of the individual actions in front of paths not yet explored.

It could seem influenced too, the path of health protection of exposed, since, considering these 50,000 workers, the National Institute for Insurance on Accidents at Work (INAIL) received ca. 17,000 applications for certification of exposure for retirement benefits. Actually there are 5,900 enrolled in the register of exposed (which offers fee exemption for medical predictive tests).

It is clear that a whole slice of exposed subjects, direct (workers) and indirect (families) are left aside for primary care. There is also lack of recognition on occupational diseases, which remained the only way to pension awards since 2005.

In this difficult context, the Chamber of Labour (Camera del Lavoro – CGIL) has operated in recent years, producing about 3,000 paperworks, mainly paths to retirement and lawsuits .

Hence the need to re-open the discussion at local level, in order to perimeter the asbestos problem wholly, considering the various institutional levels of expertise.

We summarize below the four titles of the problem:

a. Health Care (Primary; Secondary)

b. Pension question

c. Environmental

d. New exposures.

a) health care intervention is required to ensure, in the diagnostic phase, the gratuitousness of the necessary tests. It is clear that the role of research is essential for the identification of possible cures. At this aforesaid event, sponsored by regional CGIL, an Area Science Park Trieste research project in progress, aimed at understanding the physiological processes of the body’s response to the fiber in its early stages by providing knowledge in order to intervene in terms of disease blocking processes, was presented to the public.

b) The issue of social security, considering legislative changes which from Law nr. 271/93 brought to a restriction of areas of retirement benefits, needs to be addressed seriously. The effects of the Fornero Reform should be discussed, since it does not provide a different path in penalties between those who retire by choice and those who retire for service reasons (see occupational diseases/ exposed): for this reason, even those who have a lower life expectancy, and for whom the state recognized in retirement benefit obligations, suffer a pension-cut.

c) The environmental issue that also includes skills of various levels, should be a reason of reflection not only from the point of view of public health and environmental protection, but also as a start up for development of a new economy. Virtuous path of phasing out of dumpyards (Porcia, not far from Pordenone, is near to saturation) for new processes of disintegration already in the implementation phase in various Italian provinces, represents an opportunity for progressive elimination of the problem of asbestos products.

Together with this reasoning, it is helpful to check the paths on the clean-up of public and private buildings, and related forms of facilitations (constructions)

d ) Reasoning about new exposed people, be they recognized so or not, it is likely to deliver to the future the same problem we have today. There are activities related to reclamation (new incidents of exposures despite the current standards), and those which are not certified, as opportunities for new exposure as for the maintenance personnel of thermal power stations where asbestos have not yet been removed, and activities for recovery and maintenance on board ships built before 1992 and declared ‘asbestos free’, although they still are not. There is also the activity of construction workers involved in stages of demolitions, which may accidentally be in contact with Eternit (widespread use of this material in the construction of chimneys, hoods, and pipes) .

There is a need, this for complexity of the issue and the magnitude of the effects, of sharing a path as representative as possible, through the involvement of trade unions CISL and UIL, on the basis of a common document that considers all aspects, thinking about the lines of the national document signed by CGIL, CISL, UIL and related associations, a basis for the necessary political awareness.

To a national level, undoubtedly, the so called draft law “Casson” summarizes themes such as health care, social security, and environment, all related to the asbestos issue, and it is around this proposal, at a national level, that we should be concentrated in supporting this initiative, starting from this territory, involving the elected parliamentarians in our dwelling areas, considering the afore coming pension reform, in order to heal the ‘vulnus’ introduced, so that those who are the recipients of retirement benefits can access the board without penalties otherwise provided for.

And to strengthen the concept, well expressed in art. 7, substitute materials whose safety has not been demonstrated cannot be used.

To a regional level:

1) A prompt renewal of the Regional Asbestos Commission (Article 4, Law 22/ 2001) has to be carried out. The Commission is an important technical and representative instrument (membership with a technical composition and the participation of trade unions and associations) to help the political level for the necessary skills.

2 ) The health surveillance must be reasoned in terms of extended protection and must not entail any cost to the citizens.

To a local level:

1 ) The Prefecture for the new exposed people, for

Ø The general identification of subjects more or less exposed to risk

Ø The necessary training and information

Ø Drafting and /or implementation of appropriate guidelines.

2 ) The environment needs to be addressed on a extended institutional table involving all relevant actors, municipalities, provinces, and Region FVG, which must aim to the planning of interventions facing a general design that has to consider the scarcity of funds and many needs, from the issue of public and private (throughout incentives) clean-ups, starting to deal with long-term projects, in terms of removal and final disposal.

Concluding, the issue of asbestos requires continual monitoring for the dramatic proportions that we have tried to describe in terms of public health and environmental sustainability. Despite the tendency of this territory to leave this chapter of history dormant and hidden, for the pain of families who have lived, who live and unfortunately will live this drama, the effort must be proportionate to counteract the internalization of the problem, and give strong legs to a project for the future, in order to face the effects, hoping that similar situations do not happen again, and deliver an environment to the new generations better than the one we have inherited today.

Trieste. Saturday, September 14th , 2013