South African Miners Suffer from Mesothelioma and Other Asbestos Diseases

Cape Town Doctor Recommends Regular Screening for Asbestos Diseases

CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA—March 5, 2004—The rate of mesothelioma and other asbestos diseases among former asbestos miners is alarming, and requires emergency measures, according to Dr. Fritz Odendaal (Business Report, South Africa, February 28, 2004). Once a physician for the Griqualand Exploration and Finance Company (Gefco), Dr. Odendaal is now in private practice. Gefco's asbestos mine in Cape Town closed almost ten years ago.

Last year, Dr. Odendaal saw 984 patients with asbestos diseases, including six with mesothelioma. Most had been employed in the mines, although some may have been exposed to asbestos dust brought home on the work clothes of their spouses. He recommends health screenings for miners and their families. Transportation from remote villages to medical clinics is scarce and expensive, and workers are not being screened for respiratory problems on a regular basis, Dr. Odendaal reports. Since asbestos diseases take anywhere from ten years to 40 years or more to develop, these workers may not understand that they could become ill. He called on the Asbestos Relief Trust, the result of an out–of–court settlement last year with Gefco's holding company, Gencor, to pay for the mass screenings. Presumably transportation or home visits would need to be included in such a plan, as well as medical care.

Asbestos Production Around the World

Because of the risks caused by asbestos exposure, South Africa is now considering a ban on asbestos products in the construction industry, according to one report (Zimbabwe Independent, February 27, 2004). Everite, a South African building product manufacturer, has begun making cement building products that do not contain asbestos. However, last year South Africa was one of nine countries that voted against a global ban on chrysotile asbestos exports. The other countries were Canada, Russia, Ukraine, China, Zimbabwe, India, Indonesia, and Colombia (see Global Plan to Limit Asbestos Exports Blocked). Not surprisingly, these are countries that still rely heavily onasbestos manufacturing.

Although the United States did not act to block the proposed worldwide asbestos ban, the country failed to pass 2003 legislation to ban asbestos within its own borders. Sadly, efforts are currently underway to revive a federal bill, S.B. 1125, that would severely limit the rights of asbestos victims. S.B. 1125 would set up a trust fund that provides inadequate compensation for those with asbestos diseases, while depriving them of access to the court system. It also would create a new bureaucracy that could force asbestos victims to endure long waits to receive payment for their injuries. Although the measure is opposed by labor unions and many Democrats, Sens. Orrin Hatch and Bill Frist hope to put S.B. 1125 before the Senate by the end of March.

Since 1984, Brayton Purcell has been an advocate for the legal rights of asbestos victims. If you or a family member has developed asbestosis, mesothelioma, or another asbestos disease, please feel free to contact our mesothelioma attorneys to learn about your legal options.