Asbestos and Gender by Francisco Báez Baquet

Posted on July 6, 2018

By: Francisco Báez Baquet

It is easy to intuit that the female gender of the author, exclusive or principal, of certain works (or, as the case may be, of all the signatories of the same), confers a special sensitivity to the content of these studies, including the same motivation for its approach. It seems to be the case, undoubtedly, of: (1)

Welcome be your professional and human interest, to help clarify several of the many facets that presents the set of all the pathologies associated with exposure to asbestos.

An example of the works with which these authors have contributed to the knowledge of the relationship between asbestos and the female gender, we will have it in the article by Maryse Bilodeau, included in our bibliography, in which the conditions of participation of the child and female labor, in the exploitation of chrysotile mines in Quebec.

On female intervention in asbestos mining, various works have been generated: Bilodeau (2002), McCulloch (2003).

An industrial sector in which the employment of female workers has been lavished has been that of the asbestos textile industry: Brown et al. (1994), D’Acri et al. (2000), Jehan et al. (2004), Merler et al. (2001), Sun et al. (2003), Zhang et al. (2004), including the tasks of recycling sacks that have contained asbestos: Ascoli et al. (2003), Barbieri et al. (2008) & (2009), Musk et al. (2006), Pinto et al. (1998), Tomasini et al. (1990).

The same applies to the manufacture of filters, containing asbestos, both for cigarettes and for anti-gas masks: Acheson et al. (1992), Dodson & Hammar (2006), Huncharek (1994), Wignall & Fox (1982).

The contamination by asbestos of the cosmetic talc, is determinant of its connection with the feminine gender, collected in the works that deal with this situation: (2)

However, the most of the affectations, especially with regard to mesothelioma, are those of a non-occupational nature. See: (3)

In González Gómez (2008), there will be a general discussion of “feminized activities”, understood as such, which have traditionally been reserved for women (administrative tasks, catering, bag recycling, etc.), being in them where it is possible to locate situations of exposure to asbestos, which eventually have been determinants of the appearance of some of the asbestos-related pathologies, and especially mesothelioma, in which lower doses are enough to trigger it.

An important battlefront, in the struggle against the maneuvers of partial or total exoneration of responsibilities with respect to the consequences of asbestos exposure, has been the different interpretation that has been given to the fact that the rate of involvement by mesothelioma is noticeably greater in males.

In fact, this circumstance, which no one denies, has been willed as evidence that endogenous factors of greater or lesser innate predisposition, would be present in the etiology of mesothelioma.

Without pretending to deny that possibility, however, the truth is that when the aforementioned rate refers to environmental exposure, and not to labor, the difference between genders, depending on it, completely disappears, strongly suggesting , that the difference observed with respect to the work environment of exposure, is due, fundamentally, to the fact that in the past to which the habitual time of latency in the outcrop of mesothelioma goes back, a distribution of social roles and habit prevailed of personnel hiring by companies, which are enough to give full account of the difference found with respect to occupational exposure.

The possible specific character of the female affectation, is determined, rather, by other circumstances, which is the case of the coexistence with asbestos workers, which led to a domestic contamination, often facilitated by the fact that the work clothes were taken to the home, and that it was washed, but without discarding that, although with less incidence, mere coexistence, without more, would have been enough for mesothelioma could have emerged in the worker’s wife, taking into account that, as it has been possible to confirm, minimal exposures are enough to trigger such a disastrous event.

In Langhoff et al. (2014), the authors conclude that almost 50% of women affected by malignant mesothelioma have been exposed to asbestos through first-degree relatives, asbestos workers, who took the contamination to their homes, through their work clothes.

In relation to malignant pleural mesothelioma, in Lacourt et al. (2014), the authors conclude that: “Our study suggests that the general ARP (risk attributable to the population), in women, is mainly due to exposure to non-occupational asbestos” …

Using the standard criteria ILO 1980, in Kilburn et al. (1986), the authors found radiographic signs of asbestosis, in 11% of the wives, and in 2% of the daughters of the workers of the shipyards of Los Angeles (California); such percentages were obtained after excluding those who had also had an occupational exposure.

If, as is well known, the generation of an asbestosis requires higher doses of contamination than for mesothelioma, the emergence of the former, asbestosis, shows that the essential minimum conditions have been generated so that it can also be produced the second, the mesothelioma.

The reverse situation, that is, that the husband is affected by mesothelioma, because of work in the asbestos industry, by his wife, has a significantly smaller -but not non-existent- record in the medical literature: Ruffie et al. (1989).

Other possible routes of contamination, of exclusive or preferential nature, specifically referring to the female gender, have been identified, including, for example, an eventual contamination of cosmetic talc (as we have already mentioned), also that used in condoms -see: Kasper & Chandler (1995) -, or even, in the case of the wives of the South African asbestos miners, through the intimate contact of the sexual act.

Indeed, in addition to the usual access routes, inhalation and ingestion, in Reid et al. (2009), mention is made of contamination through the vaginal route, through sexual intercourse.

Tragic crossroads, between the life and the death!

The same route has also been invoked, in relation to talcum contamination by tremolite, in its use in female intimate hygiene: Heller et al. (1996).

It is also appropriate to bring here, the contamination by asbestos, of the talc used in the manufacture of condoms: Kasper & Chandler (1995).

The ingestion has also been indicated as a possible route of contamination in a woman affected by mesothelioma: Van Kesteren et al. (2004).

That the cosmetic talc, naturally contaminated with asbestos, has been the cause of mesothelioma in some women who used it, we will see it reflected in: Gordon et al. (2014).

The settlement of asbestos-related pathologies, in specifically feminine anatomical structures, is the common denominator of a whole series of works: (4)

The asbestos has also burst into the lives of women, in a silent way, which is not reflected in statistics or in the tables of pathologies commonly attributed to asbestos, and this has been the case, in their frequent condition as caretakers of victims direct,   their spouses or children, with sequelae of somatization of psychic suffering, and because of the deterioration of all kinds, from economic insecurity to the deficit of normality in relationships of couple and in the family life.

Regarding the relation of asbestos to gender, and specifically referring to female gender, the localized bibliography is the following: (5)

Mesothelioma in pregnant women

We contemplate here, due to its specificity and transcendence, the circumstance of mesothelioma in pregnant women -see: Pekin et al. (2004), Ramsey et al. (2000), Scattone et al. (2001), Schweichler et al. (1995), Urbanczyk et al. (1996)-, on the experimental basis on possible tumor induction in descendants, mediating placental transmission of chrysotile asbestos -see: Vanchugova et al. (2008)-, and, in the last resort, also in the field of animal experimentation, the possibility of a teratogenic effect of  asbestos has been pointed out, given its placental transfer. See: Krowke et al. (1985).

This is a possibility that deserves to be meditated, especially if one takes into account, following Erik Larsson in his reasoning, that, naturally, the placenta of mammals already presupposes a localized localized depression of the maternal immune system (to avoid rejection). of the fetus, on the part of the body that receives it), which has given rise to the possibility that, eventually, certain tumors may have developed, under the protection of said localized situation, favorable to its initiation and proliferation.

Consistent with all these indications, a recent study formulates the hypothesis (supported by the increased incidence found), which points to a correlation between exposure to asbestos and gestational trophoblastic disease: Reid et al. (2009.

It is called gestational trophoblastic disease, the group of disorders that have in common the proliferation of the gestational trophoblast, ie the tissue that will become the placenta, in the normal process of pregnancy.

It is evident the need for epidemiological studies that duly clarify all the questions posed by these works, referring to specific issues, such as the possibility of high incidence for infertility, spontaneous abortions, malformations in the fetus, neoplasms in infants, etc.

In any case, the mesothelioma in pregnant women represents a vital catastrophe multiplied, both from the psychic point of view of the patient herself, and from that of the objective weighting of the two human lives involved in this scenario of the malignancy of asbestos.

Eventually, the diagnosis of mesothelioma in the abdominal cavity, in a situation of pregnancy, may correspond to the finding of this malignant disease of lethal prognosis, on the occasion of having undergone a cesarean section. See: Lanneau et al. (2005).

This situation, due to its remarkable drama, is situated among the highest levels of aggressiveness attributable to a pathology so linked to asbestos, such as the mesothelioma.

Another aspect to consider, in the topic of the mesothelioma in pregnant women, is the fact that this condition of the patient determines a reduction of the available palliative therapies, since some of them would collide with the necessary protection to the integrity of the fetus: Sørensen et al. (2007).

Mesothelioma in illustrious women

Due to its undoubted greater media importance, the registered cases deserve to be highlighted, in which mesothelioma has affected people of the feminine gender, and who socially have assumed a prominent role. Then we will review some of these cases.

We would have, for example, the case of the novelist Barbara Harris, wife of the actor and singer Dale Harris, and author of the science fiction novel entitled “Who is Julia?”, Which gave rise to a television movie; in the year 2008 he died of mesothelioma. Probably his contact with asbestos was motivated by his activities in the real estate sector, particularly in relation to the rehabilitation of homes.

Another similar case would be that of Ann Marian Ebsworth, British lawyer and judge. In 1992, she became the sixth woman judge of the Superior Court, and the first to be assigned to the Queen’s Banking Division. In 2002, he died of mesothelioma. His father, Arthur Ebsworth, was an officer of the Royal Navy and his early life was spent in several barracks. Given the extraordinary presence of asbestos in warships, it seems reasonable to conjecture that this circumstance was not alien to the outbreak of mesothelioma in his daughter.

When the presumed link of morbidity and mortality with asbestos is less specific than that of mesothelioma, as is the case of lung cancer, the attribution to this etiology turns out to be, as is logical, more questionable.

Such would be the case, for example, of the singer (non-smoker) Donna Summer, called “Queen of the Disk”, and died of lung cancer in 2012; having lived in the same New York district, and in the vicinity of the Twin Towers, on the occasion of the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, was subjected, like the rest of the inhabitants of the same environment, to huge dust clouds that included the very dangerous amphibole tremolite, type of asbestos that naturally contaminated the vermiculite of Libby, with which the fireproof insulation of the metal structures of the towers had been made.

In conclusion, we can affirm, without any kind of reservations, that the female gender has also assumed an important share of risk for asbestos, evidenced by the outgrowth of their associated pathologies, with special emphasis on mesothelioma, for whose unleashing it is enough with comparatively weaker doses, or shorter, sporadic or even punctual and unique exposures.


The access link to the Dropbox file that contains it is then provided:


1 Patricia M. Baker, Marinella Bertolotti, Maryse Bilodeau, Dorothy H. Broom, Elisa Brunelli, Maria Blandina Marques dos Santos, Patricia G. Camp, Ysanne Chapman, Constanza Camargo, Vanda D’Acri, Helen Dimich-Ward, Daniela Dodoli, Tonina Enza Iaia, Daniella Ferrante, Carla Fiumalbi, Karen Francis, Susan Gerber, Dorota M Gertig, Fernanda Giannasi, María Fernanda González Gómez, Susan E. Hankinson, Patricia Hartge, Debra S. Heller, Jane S. Heyworth, Janne Jensen, Susan M. Kennedy, Kristina Kjaerheim, Hilde Langseth, Susan Lee, Laura Moro, Margaret O’Connor, Giulia Pinton, Alison Reid, Margarita Reina, Katia Reis de Souza, Lucila Scavone, Amanda Segal, Neonila Szeszenia-Dabrowska, Annie Thébaud-Mony, Annalisa Todesco, Cecilia Viti, Carolyn Westhoff o Urzula Wilczynska.

2 Chang & Risch (1997), Cramer (1999), Cramer et al. (1982) & (2007 -2 refs.-), Gertig et al. (2000), Gordon (2014), Gordon et al. (2014), Harlow et al. (1992), Harlow & Hartge (1995), Harlow & Weiss (1989), Hartge et al. (1983), Huncharek et al. (2007), Karageorgi et al. (2010), Kasper & Chadner (1995), Langset et al. (2008), Longo & Young (1979), Mills et al. (2004), Muscat & Huncharek (2008), Wong et al. (1999), Yamada et al. (1997).

3 Burdorf et al. (2004), Case et al. (2002), Ferrante et al. (2007), Glage (1970), Gogou et al. (2008), Hucharek et al. (1989), Kilburn et al. (1986), Lacourt et al. (2014), Lander & Viskum (1985), Langhoff et al. (2014), Magnani et al. (1993), Maltoni & Di Bisceglie (2000), Maltoni et al. (1994) & (1997), Proietti et al. (2004), Reid et al. (2007) & (2008), Schipperijn (2007), Schneider & Woitowitz (1995), Sider et al. (1987), Sinninghe Damsté et al. (2007), Van Kesteren et al. (2004), Vianna & Polan (1978), Yamada et al. (1997).

4 Camargo et al. (2011), Castro et al. (1983), Chang & Risch (1997), Clement et al. (1996), Cramer (1999), Cramer et al. (1982) & (2007), Gertig et al. (2000), Gol’Bert (1959), Goldblum & Hart (1995), Graham & Graham (1967), Harlow et al. (1992), Harlow & Hartge (1995), Harlow & Weiss (1989), Hartge et al. (1983), Heller et al. (1996) & (1999), Horn & Lewis (1951), Huncharek et al. (2007), Karageorgi et al. (2010), Langseth et al. (2008), Langseth & Kjaerheim (2004), Lanneau et al. (2005), Longo & Young (1979), Mills et al. (2004), Muscat & Huncharek (2008), Nevius & Friedman (1959), Paoletti (1961), Park et al. (2011), Parmley & Woodruff (1974), Rai & Flores (2011), Reid et al. (2009 -2 refs.-) & (2011), Rosenblatt et al. (1992), Taylor et al. (2004), Vasama-Neuvonen et al. (1999), Wong et al. (1999).

5 Acheson et al. (1982), Baker et al. (2005), Beer (2000), Bianchi et al. (2004), Bilodeau (2002), Bitchatchi et al. (2010), Broom (1986), Brown et al. (1986), Burdorf et al. (2004), Cagianut (1972), Camargo et al. (2011), Camiade et al. (2013), Camp et al. (2004), Cantor et al. (1975), Case et al. (2002), Castro et al. (1983), Chang & Risch (1997), Clement et al. (1996), Cramer (1999), Cramer et al. (1982) & (2007), D’Acri et al. (2000), Davies et al. (2001) & (2004), Dawson et al. (1993), Delfino et al. (1995), de Pangher Manzini (2003), Dodson et al. (2003), Dodson & Hammar (2006), Duan et al. (1991), Eltabbakh et al. (1999), Ferrante et al. (2007), Germani et al. (1999), Gertig et al. (2000), Glage (1970), Gogou et al. (2008), Gol’Bert (1959), Goldberg & Labrèche (1996), Goldblum & Hart (1995), Graham & Graham (1967), Grossgarten & Woitowitz (1991), Hammar et al. (1997), Hansen & Jensen (1998), Harlow et al. (1992), Harlow & Hartge (1995), Harlow & Weiss (1989), Hartge et al. (1983), Heller et al. (1999), Horn & Lewis (1951), Huncharek et al. (1989) & (2007), Hyland et al. (2007), Jehan et al. (2004), Kalacić (1973), Kasper & Chandler (1995), Kerrigan et al. (2002), Kilburn et al. (1985), Lander & Viskum (1985), Langseth et al. (2007) & (2008), Lanseth & Andersen (1999), Lee et al. (2009), Longo & Young (1979), Magnani et al. (1993), Maltoni et al. (1997) & (1999), Martínez et al. (2009), Mazzetti et al. (2006), McCulloch (2003), Merler et al. (2001), Mills et al. (2004), Muscat & Huncharek (1991), Nascimento et al. (1994), Nevius & Friedman (1959), Newhouse et al. (1972), Paoletti (1961), Park et al. (2011), Parmley & Wooddruff (1974), Ponnuswamy et al. (2009), Proietti et al. (2004), Rai & Flores (2011), Reid et al. (2007), (2008 -2 refs.-), (2009 -2 refs.-) & (2011), Robertson et al. (1999), Rodríguez-Roisín et al. (1986), Roggli et al. (1997), Rosenblatt et al. (1992), Rösler et al. (1994), Santos et al. (2012), Scavone (1997) & (2002), Scavone et al. (1999), Schipperijn (2007), Schneider & Woitowitz (1995), Shanks et al. (2000), Shao et al. (2011), Sider et al. (1987), Sinninghe Damsté et al. (2007), Smith (2002), Stoeckle et al. (1982), Sun et al. (2003), Szeszenia-Dabrowska et al. (1986), Taioli et al. (2014), Tanriverdi et al. (2013), Taylor et al. (2004), Van Kesteren et al. (2004), Vasama-Neuvonen et al. (1999), Vianna & Polan (1978), Waldman (2008), Wang et al. (1998), Weiderpass et al. (1999), Wignall & Fox (1982), Wolf et al. (2010), Wong et al. (1999), Yan et al. (2006), Yamada et al. (1997), Zhang et al. (2004).

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