Asbestos will be a Worldwide Danger for Decades

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There is growing concern around the world about the increasing use of white asbestos in India, Russia, Brazil, China and the developing world. The companies involved in mining and selling on the asbestos – a huge supplier is the Jeffrey asbestos mine in Quebec, Canada – insist that it is far less dangerous than the old blue and brown asbestos, which were clearly linked with diseases like mesothelioma and lung cancer.

But medical experts disagree and are predicting yet more decades of deaths from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. White asbestos – called chrysotile – is now the only form of asbestos used commercially worldwide because it is a cheap and effective building material. Yet medical experts still say it is a killer, and white asbestos has been banned or restricted in 52 countries.

And so it is the people of the world’s poorest countries who are set to suffer the devastating effects of chrysotile and its deadly legacy of diseases such as mesothelioma. Many scientists fear a global epidemic of asbestos-related illnesses – Dr Vincent Cogliano of the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer says: "Any exposure is going to prolong the asbestos epidemic - continued export and continued use of chrysotile will increase the incidence of lung cancer and mesothelioma for many decades to come."

Asbestos exposure is a hazard to your health – image

With the Canadian government under pressure to approve a £37million loan to ensure that the Jeffrey Mine can continue to export white asbestos to developing nations, there has been huge opposition from prominent physicians and academics, with the International Labour Organisation estimating that 100,000 workers die each year from asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma.

White asbestos is banned in the European Union, but in the USA – where it is still legal - the asbestos industry has paid out around $70billion in compensation claims costs and legal fees.

Most of Canada’s white asbestos is sent to the developing world where demand for cheap building materials is at its highest. It is used for corrugated roofing and water pipes, leaving innocent workers and families living in affected buildings to suffer.

Now, the number of countries imposing bans or restrictions continues to climb, and health and labour activists have sprung up in China, Brazil, India, and other high-use countries.

On 21 July 2010 the World Service’s Discovery programme will feature a report on white asbestos and on 24 July 2010 BBC World TV will screen a special documentary 'Dangers in the Dust – Inside the Global Asbestos Trade'.

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