Did you know that ~125 million people in the world are exposed to asbestos at the workplace? According to the World Health Organization, 107,000+ people die each year from asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma & asbestosis resulting from occupational exposure – in 2007, my father was one of those people.
If you only take away one thing from this post, let it be this – ASBESTOS KILLS.
The horrid truth is that all deaths and illnesses related to asbestos are entirely PREVENTABLE through an international ban on asbestos. The US & many other countries across the globe must STOP importing asbestos & pass legislation to BAN ASBESTOS. The US Environmental Protection Agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization, and the National Toxicology Program have all declared asbestos a proven human carcinogen – so why hasn’t it stopped being used?
The “near-magical properties” of asbestos, from its tensile strength to its ability to resist fire, heat, and acid, resulted in popular use and the development of a thriving asbestos industry. Countries across the globe contributed to this industry for decades prior to the discovery of its detrimental health effects. Industrialized countries have used this inexpensive, naturally occurring, fibrous mineral for a wide array of products, including pipe and ceiling insulation, ship-building materials, brake shoes and pads, bricks, roofing, and flooring. The manufacturing, import and export, and use of asbestos in every day products continue despite publication of scientific evidence that proves the life-terminating effects of the material.
Safe exposure to asbestos does not exist, and there is a clear scientific consensus internationally that asbestos, in all its forms, and even at low doses, is a proven human carcinogen. When inhaled, asbestos fibers take the form of a very fine dust and proceed to penetrate deep inside of the lungs, gradually causing inflammation and fibrosis of the lung tissue or membrane and causing cancerous changes that may lead to a lung tumor. Fibers may also venture outside the pleural cavity and cause localized fibrosis, pleural plaques, or cancer of the pleura, mesothelioma.
According to the WHO, there is no threshold at which asbestos dust becomes dangerous to a person’s health, so exposure to any amount of asbestos can potentially lead to cancer. Twenty thousand asbestos fibers are relatively even smaller than five human hairs, so thousands of people are oblivious to the fact that they are exposed. The fibers can linger and alter bodily functions, like cell division, for a latency period of 20 years or more from the time of exposure, before symptoms of respiratory disease or asbestos-related cancer are even detected. Physicians have found extreme difficulty in treating most asbestos-related illnesses because most have no cure.
Even with its well-documented dangers, the process of banning asbestos across the world has been a slow struggle. A number of countries have already taken steps in the right direction and implemented a ban on the use, development, and import and export of asbestos and asbestos-containing products. However, some highly industrialized countries, including the United States, have only stopped using five of the six naturally occurring fibrous minerals of asbestos.
The legalized form of asbestos, Chrysotile, is a white mineral derived from the configuration of serpentine asbestos and accounts for more than ninety-five percent of the asbestos ever used around the world. The countries filled with Chrysotile defend their usage by titling it a “less hazardous and less carcinogenic” form of asbestos. The Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association claims on its website that the use of Chrysotile in manufacturing “is safe for the workers, environment, and the general public.” The scientific world, however, has provided sufficient evidence to support that all forms of asbestos, including Chrysotile, are carcinogenic, responsible for asbestos-related cancers, and cause death for thousands across the globe. An international ban on the use of asbestos is crucial because even though exposure limits could be technically achieved for “controlled use” of Chrysotile asbestos in the United States, the residual risks and environmental exposures to products in use or to waste remains too high to be acceptable.
The primary arguments against a worldwide ban on asbestos are essentially economic. An ad placed in The Times of India by India’s Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association claimed that asbestos cement products are “strong, durable, economical, energy efficient and eco-friendly.” They may possess these qualities, but since when did fibers being released in to the air and contaminating our environment as these materials weather, erode, break or are cut by saws and other power tools become considerably “eco-friendly?”
There are alternative materials to asbestos cement sheets and pipes that can provide this same strength and durability mentioned in the ad. Fibre cements, “a mix of cement and fibres which may be cellulose, polyproylene, polyvinyl alcohol or aramide fibres” could replace the asbestos cement, which accounts for ninety percent of the asbestos market today. An alternative to any traditional use of asbestos exists. Substitute products may be more costly than asbestos, but many must consider that this cost is miniscule in comparison to the exorbitantly high cost to society of asbestos-related diseases. Journalists have tracked nearly $100 million in public and private money spent by groups in Canada, India, and Brazil since the mid-1980s to keep asbestos in commerce. Critics call the asbestos industry “unethical” and “almost criminal” and compare their strategy to the tobacco industry: “create doubt, contest litigation, and delay regulation.”
Countries feel that using asbestos benefits them economically, but in reality the effects are far-reaching: “using asbestos now will damage a country’s economy for more than 30 years by making future generations bear the responsibility for compensating victims and the financial burden of looking after them.” For example, in Germany, the cost of meeting victims’ medical expenses and paying financial compensation to victims and their families has reached 290 million and will continue to escalate resulting in a much higher expense than if they used a safer substitute material. The use of asbestos financially cripples the economy of many countries, and the use of substitute materials will be less costly in the future and help save thousands of lives.
While the struggle to ban asbestos continues and awareness grows, temporary solutions must suffice. Foremost, awareness must be spread to people, especially workers, exposed to asbestos. One worker in India, Ravindra Mohite, shared his heart wrenching story on the blog of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization website (“‘India Through My Eyes’ – Ravindra’s Story”). He recalls that in his time working at various facilities with asbestos, “none of the workers were ever informed of the hazards of the material with which they worked.” He goes on to explain, “[we] noticed warning labels on the bags but company officials never explained the hazards nor outlined appropriate safety measures for handling asbestos.” Forty-one workers from the company, including Mohite, were diagnosed with Asbestos-related disorders, and one of these workers died almost immediately after diagnosis.
Notification to workers being exposed to asbestos is crucial, so that they may monitor themselves with medical surveillance and detect illnesses as early as possible. Monitoring is necessary even after an individual is no longer exposed because these diseases usually have a latency period of up to 30 or even 40 years. With early detection of asbestos-related illnesses, treatment is much more efficient and results in a longer life expectancy. For example, in studies among patients whose mesothelioma was detected early on, the life expectancy ranges from two to five years, while the median life expectancy is four to eighteen months.
When my father was diagnosed with stage-four mesothelioma, the most progressive stage of the cancer, the doctors said the particles had been lingering in his system without any symptoms for 25 years and estimated he had one month to live. Ironically, while working and trying to make a living for himself, he was unknowingly exposed to a deadly material that was going to financially cost him more for treatment than what he was making at work, and eventually cost him his life. He went against the doctor’s estimate and fought with the cancer for seven years. In those seven years, he overcame surgeries, numerous chemotherapy sessions and lived his life in a constant struggle.
Asbestos-related cancer victims go on to die painful, brutal deaths. In the last sixth months of my father’s life, similar to what many patients will endure, he could not eat, hardly slept, had a tube shoved up his nose, and suffered excessively as a result of exposure to this material. Exposure to asbestos did not only result in a physical and emotional struggle for my father, but for my whole family. Even if other members of my family, anyone my father influenced, or myself were not directly exposed to it, we all had to face the consequences of asbestos. Asbestos not only affects millions of its VICTIMS, but also billions of FAMILIES, FRIENDS, and COMMUNITIES around the WORLD.
To protect the health of all people in the world – industrial workers, construction workers, spouses and children, now and in generations to come – it is essential to spread awareness and ban asbestos universally. More than TWO MILLION TONS of this material are produced each YEAR, and according to the International Social Security Administration, figures for asbestos manufacture and use have begun to climb again. Asbestos lingers not only in the workplace, but also in the environment. In countries where asbestos is being used today, asbestos-contaminated dust accumulates in thousands of communities. Safer substitutes to replace this silent killer have already been implemented successfully in 52 countries.
The only realistic and sustainable answer to this pandemic is complete removal of asbestos worldwide. The primary influence on governments to ban asbestos comes from the voice of the public. Very rarely do people see a story on asbestos in the media, but when the public is educated and acts on the information, the greatest success is seen. The fate of hundreds relies on citizens to promote awareness and come together to demand all countries to ban the manufacture, trade and use of all types of asbestos and asbestos-containing products as soon as possible.
Ultimately, what’s worth more – an inexpensive material or our LIVES?
(*sources available upon request)
TOP 7 REASONS TO PREVENT ASBESTOS EXPOSURE: 7 Reasons for 7 Days
(courtesy of Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization – for more info visit www.asbestosdiseaseawareness.org)
- Asbestos is a proven human carcinogen and there is NO safe level of exposure.
- Asbestos fibers can cause asbestosis, lung and gastrointestinal cancers, and an aggressive cancer called mesothelioma. The average life expectancy of a mesothelioma patient is six – twelve months.
- Asbestos diseases have a 10 – 50 year latency period from initial exposure to development of disease.
- Chrysotile asbestos accounts for nearly 95% of asbestos mined and exported today. The top five asbestos producing countries are Russia, China, Brazil, Kazakhstan, and Canada.
- 55 countries have banned asbestos, but the U.S. and Canada have NOT.
- The World Health Organization estimates that 107,000 workers die annually from exposure to asbestos. Asbestos has been mined and used in a broad range of products, materials, and applications including construction, insulation, shipyards, and many other industries.
- Asbestos fibers can be nearly 700 times smaller than human hair and are odorless, tasteless, indestructible fibers that can remain suspended in the air for seconds.