Banning Asbestos, a Global Responsibility According to International Health Experts

Russia Disputes Safety Concerns Presented by Asbestos to General Public

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - February 20, 2008 - International health experts pressed for the global ban of asbestos during the first World Social Security Forum held in Moscow, Russia. The Forum was hosted by the Ministry of Health and Social Development and other Russian Federation members of the International Social Security Association (ISSA) at ISSA's 29th General Assembly. Despite protests from the Russian hosts, theISSA's Special Commission on Prevention called on all countries to ban the manufacture, trade and use of all types of asbestos and asbestos-containing products. Asbestos is known for its fire resistant properties but its fibers cause severe, debilitating diseases such as larynx and lung cancer, asbestosis, and deadly mesothelioma. It can take years, even decades after exposure to asbestos, for asbestos-related diseases to develop.

Asbestos has created an international health crisis. Although it has been banned in more than forty countries, many countries like the United States continue to import 30 tons of asbestos per year. "Asbestos is the source of a major humanitarian crisis on a global scale," said Dr. Annie Leprince from the National Research and Safety Institute in France. (Khaleej Times, September 12, 2007) Dr. Leprince, a medical expert on the issue, was the main speaker at the Forum. She pointed out that approximately 100,000 people die every year from asbestos-related diseases and referred to the mineral as a "serial killer." Dr. Leprince also stated that asbestos would have a major economic impact on social security systems world-wide.

In some industrialized countries, the number of deaths related to asbestos exposure is higher than any other work-related deaths. Countries that continue to manufacture and/or use asbestos will pay a high price in the future due to the economic impact asbestos-related health issues will inevitably have on their economies.

Russia is currently the top producer of asbestos, representing about 40% of the world's production. A representative from Russia, spoke out against the ban saying that up to 500,000 employees would lose their jobs as a consequence. Yevgeny Kovalevsky, a scientist from the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, downplayed the deadly nature of asbestos when he stated, "... for the general population, there aren't significant risks ... I haven't seen a single scientific study that shows the need for a ban." (AFP, September 12, 2007)

Russian representatives also minimized the dangers of chrysotile or "white asbestos," a type of asbestos fiber mined in Russia. "It's just a PR campaign when they say that asbestos can kill," said Viktor Ivanov, head of the Chrysotile Association, an industry group based in the Russian town of Asbest, in the Ural mountains region. (AFP, September 12, 2007).

However, a report by the ISSA Special Prevention Commission contradicted the Russian position stating that "... the international scientific community has reached a clear consensus, based on numerous toxicological and epidemiological studies, that all types of asbestos are carcinogenic, even in small doses: there is no such thing as 'good asbestos.'" The report addresses the dangers of chrysotile, and includes a study by the World Health Organization that proves carcinogenic properties do exist in chrysotile.

The Ban of Asbestos in the United States

Recently, the US Senate unanimously voted to pass The Ban Asbestos in America Act, an encouraging step toward banning the sale or use of asbestos in the United States. Democratic Senator Patty Murray from Washington pushed to get the measure through for more than six years. Activists fighting to ban asbestos hailed the vote as a victory, although others felt the ban did not go far enough as it still permits limited use of asbestos.

Asbestos is in the process of being eliminated around the world, and many countries have found substitutes for asbestos. Although some of these substitutes may be more expensive, the cost of continued asbestos use not only destroys people's lives but ultimately may impact the economic future of the country in which they live. Unknowingly, many innocent people suffer occupational or environmental exposure to asbestos. Asbestos affects mechanics, shipbuilders, construction workers, their families and people from all walks of life. Thousands of asbestos-related deaths occur every year that could have been prevented by banning the importation and use of asbestos.