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19 December 2016

Deadly Remnants of Asbestos in Italy

Carmen Vecchi walks in an area near an old industrial
plant where asbestos reclamation was carried out.  The
area is fenced off, but many teenagers still go there.
Bagnoli district, Naples, Italy, 2016.  Cinzia Canneri
A major shareholder of Eternit was found guilty in 2012 of negligence during the 1970s and 1980s that led to about 3,000 asbestos-related deaths. Two years later, the charges were dropped after courts ruled that too much time had passed since the allegations.  Despite setbacks like these, people like Romana Blasotti Pavesi... continue to fight. She has already outlived her husband — a former employee at Eternit — their daughter, a sister and her niece, all of whom died from mesothelioma in recent years.

Deadly Remnants of Asbestos in Italy
by Andrew Boryga, The New York Times, 
19 December 2016 (with 22 photos)

Although Italy joined asbestos-producing nations in banning the carcinogenic material at the end of the 20th century, thousands of people working in factories and living in public housing had already been exposed. In other words, as the Italian photographer Cinzia Canneri explained, the damage had been done by the 1980s.

Ms. Canneri said it could take up to 30 years after exposure for diseases like asbestosis or mesothelioma to develop. As a result, large numbers of people in the last decade have begun to suffer in Italy and more are expected to — with few legal or medical protections.

“They have not been recognized as victims,” Ms. Canneri said through an interpreter. “They want to speak and be heard.”

To help them, Ms. Canneri spent the last two years closely following asbestos victims, documenting their daily lives and struggles as they deal with new diseases, mourn deceased family members, visit doctors and contemplate whether or not time is running out on their health.

During each trip, Ms. Canneri lived for a few days with each subject, getting to know him or her. “Taking pictures was the last thing,” she said. Her patience paid off with intimate photographs that seemed almost voyeuristic, and gave viewers a window into her subjects’ innermost lives. One photo captures Elena, who lives in public housing in Milan known as the White Houses — a nod to the white asbestos that was used in construction and that has affected residents. Elena lies on a bed in her cramped room, shirtless. Every inch of wall space is covered by clothing accessories. Recently, she suffered from emphysema and lost an eye. Her face is buried in sheets, and Francesco, a friend who visits during her frequent bouts of depression, pulls on a cigarette.

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