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Still Progress to be Made in the Fight Against Asbestos

world signpostsAsbestos was a popular component of many industrial and commercial products that were manufactured during most of the 20th century. However, scientists had known for decades that asbestos exposure could lead to several potentially deadly diseases, a fact that businesses could not deny forever. In many developed nations, this has led to significant reductions, if not outright bans, on the mining and use of asbestos.

However, these policies have not been adopted universally. The asbestos industry still has a strong foothold in the economies of several developing nations.

One researcher from Australia recently published an editorial in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, in which he reviewed the past successes and current challenges of banning the use of asbestos around the world.

Asbestos and the wide range of negative health effects
When most people think of diseases caused by exposure to asbestos, certain respiratory conditions most likely come to mind. However, experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that there is evidence that the hazardous material can have an impact on several parts of the body.

The most common respiratory diseases associated with asbestos exposure are malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM), asbestosis and lung cancer. The first two illnesses are caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers. If these microscopic fragments enter the respiratory system, they can cause chronic inflammation, which may lead to MPM or lung cancer. Furthermore, they may lead to the development of scar tissue in the lungs, which is a characteristic of asbestosis.

Asbestos exposure also causes malignant peritoneal mesothelioma, which affects the lining of the abdominal organs. Furthermore, there is some evidence linking asbestos to cancers of the esophagus, stomach, colon and rectum.

Bans in developed nations
Since the link between asbestos and malignant diseases became common knowledge, various developed nations around the world have been officially banning use of the material. The first policies were adopted in Australia about 30 years ago. Furthermore, in September 2012, the Canadian government decided to stop fighting efforts to have chrysotile asbestos listed as a dangerous substance under the Rotterdam Convention, a move that came on the heels of the cancellation of a major loan to a chrysotile mine.

Also in 2012, two global professional groups called for the elimination of asbestos among their member organizations.

While the efforts to curb asbestos production may help stem the occurrence of illness among miners, other individuals who use asbestos products, such as plumbers, carpenters and other tradespeople, may still be affected for years to come. However, that should not diminish the importance of asbestos bans.

More work needs to be done
The World Health Organization estimates that about 125 million people all over globe are exposed to asbestos through the workplace. Despite growing awareness of asbestos-related diseases in countries such as the U.S., UK and Australia, the mineral is still popular in developing nations such as China, India and Brazil. This is partly attributable to the efforts of lobby groups, such as the now-defunct Chrysotile Institute of Montreal.

“One of the main arguments which had been used by this lobby group and similar groups in other countries is that because asbestos has been around for many decades and has been the subject of considerable research about its cancer risks, the methods to control its use are well known and so it can be safely used,” Malcolm Ross Sim of Monash University wrote in his editorial. “The inadequacy of this argument is readily apparent to anyone with any knowledge of the poorly developed regulatory approach to asbestos and other workplace hazards in many newly industrializing countries.”

Sim notes that there is still progress to be made in the fight against asbestos.

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