Today, medical journal The Lancet has publicly criticised the Canadian government for its attitude towards asbestos, saying that although Canada will not expose its own citizens to asbestos, it will continue exporting the deadly substance to developing nations [Canada accused of hypocrisy, Lancet].
A few facts about asbestos
- All forms of asbestos are proven human carcinogens
- No exposure to asbestos is without risk
- All forms of asbestos cause the debilitating lung disease asbestosis
- All forms of asbestos can cause malignant mesothelioma
- All forms of asbestos can cause lung cancer
- All forms of asbestos can cause laryngeal cancer
- All forms of asbestos can cause ovarian cancer
- All forms of asbestos can cause gastrointestinal cancer
- All forms of…you get the picture
- Asbestos is still widely used
- Just 52 countries have so far banned asbestos outright
According to scientists at the Collegium Ramazzini in Modena, Italy, “a large number of countries still use, import and export asbestos and asbestos-containing products.” More to the point, despite the above facts, many countries that have banned other forms of asbestos, still allow the so-called “controlled use” of chrysotile asbestos, which is exempted from the ban for political and economic reasons (lobbying by the asbestos mining and manufacturing industry, in other words). The exemption of white asbestos from a ban has no basis in medical science. The microscopic nature of asbestos fibres means that they can get deep into the lung when breathed in where they stay triggering problems.
As such, the Collegium, and many other organisations [Environ Health Perspect. 2010, 118, 897-901] are pressing for a full, international ban with no exemptions, “To protect the health of all people in the world – industrial workers, construction workers, women and children, now and in future generations”. A total ban rigorously enforced is urgently needed.
Asbestos is not a single substance but any of six naturally occurring fibrous minerals. These minerals exist as either serpentine or amphibole forms. The only serpentine asbestos is chrysotile, commonly known as white asbestos, which accounts for 95% of all asbestos used around the world, it is the only form still being used. The amphibole minerals: amosite (brown asbestos), crocidolite (blue asbestos), tremolite, anthophyllite and actinolite, are no longer used. Asbestos was once hailed a wonder material for the construction industry because it can withstand fire, heat and acid, has great tensile strength and acts as both an effective thermal insulator and sound-proofing material. Unfortunately, its wonder comes at a price to health.
Still today at least 125 million people around the world are exposed to asbestos through their work [Egilman et al., Am J Ind Med. 2003, 44, 540-557] and many millions more were exposed throughout their working lives, with about 20 to 40% of adult men reporting past occupations that may have involves exposure to asbestos. In addition to mesothelioma, 5 to 7% of all lung cancers are thought to be due to occupational exposure to asbestos. [Tossavainen, Int J Occup Environ Health., 2004, 10, 22-25]. Those who feel that they have been affected by asbestos exposure can visit the mesothelioma news site for information regarding your rights.
The Collegium concludes that the risks associated with exposure to asbestos cannot be controlled by technology nor by regulation of working practices. Scientists and responsible authorities in countries allowing the use of asbestos should be under no illusion that controlled use of chrysotile asbestos is an effective alternative to a ban on all use of asbestos. They point out that safer alternatives are now widely available and widely used in countries in which a ban is enforced, there is no excuse for not banning asbestos outright.
Collegium Ramazzini (2010). Asbestos is still with us: repeat call for a universal ban International Journal of Environment and Health, 4 (4), 380-388