Residents of an Italian city devastated by asbestos will visit Sarnia next month to share their experience and see how this city has fared.
The delegation from Casale Monferrato will meet local politicians, doctors and union leaders April 9-10 to discuss how their community has contended with asbestos-related cancers linked to a massive cement factory.
“Everyone in their town has been touched by this disease… but they’ve really taken hold of it and tried to drive change going forward,” said Sandy Kinart, chair of Victims of Chemical Valley, an advocacy and support group for occupational disease victims.
The Italian delegation includes a city councillor, an oncologist, teacher, student and union leaders. They will tour Sarnia with a stop at St. Joseph’s Hospice before sharing their story at a public event at the Dante Club.
Located in northern Italy west of Milan, Casale Monferrato shares many similarities with Sarnia, Kinart said.
It has 36,000 people and was once dominated by a single industry, a prosperous Eternit factory that made asbestos-laced roof coverings and cement pipes.
At least 1,700 people there have died of asbestos-related disease, and though the factory closed 30 years ago about 50 new cases continue to appear annually.
Kinart said citizens there got active. They sued the factory owner, launched educational campaigns, improved public health, established the city’s first hospice, and stimulated local tourism.
“These people have really galvanized their community, and try to drive awareness in learning about disease and how to care for that,” she said.
“Their whole town has done that, from the mayor to the doctors to the citizens themselves.”
Sarnia-Lambton has the highest rate in Ontario of mesothelioma, a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. Between 1998 and 2011 the local Occupational Health
Clinic for Ontario Workers tracked more than 600 cases of asbestos-related death and sickness.
That includes 105 cases of mesothelioma, 243 cases of asbestos-related lung cancer, and 267 cases of asbestosis.
The Point Edward-based clinic also tracked 1,206 people who developed pleural plaques, a thickening of the lung lining causes by inhaling asbestos fibres.
Kinart, who lost her husband and several family members to asbestos, said Sarnia can learn a lot from the Italian experience.
“It’s about having that opportunity to hear the stories, and share stories back and forth. It’s an opportunity for education and growth,” she said.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Representatives from Casale Monferrato discuss how their community has transitioned from asbestos to a better future. Q & A to follow.
WHEN: Wednesday, April 10, 7 p.m.
WHERE: The Dante Club, 1330 London Rd.