Asbestos Use Worldwide – How Different Countries Deal with Asbestos

Asbestos is a worldwide problem, one that threatens life and health in all corners of the globe. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 125 million workers around the world are exposed to asbestos each year, and more than 107,000 workers die from asbestos exposure every year.

Despite these startling figures, several countries still mine and export the material. The biggest producer is Russia, which produced 618,037 tons of asbestos in 2013. Other large exporters include the former Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan (175,235 tons in 2013), Brazil (125,832 tons in 2013), and China (52,860 tons in 2013).(1)

Fortunately, over 50 countries have now banned or restricted the use of asbestos. But disturbingly, the asbestos industry spent nearly $100 million between the 1980s and 2013 in an attempt to fight these bans.

Asbestos in Canada

One area where the asbestos industry found its feet was Canada. Asbestos was a huge industry in Canada; the last Canadian asbestos mine closed operations as recently as 2012. There was even a town called Asbestos in Quebec, built around the world’s largest asbestos mine!

Incredibly, only in July 2015 did the Canadian government admit that all forms of asbestos are harmful. An organisation called Ban Asbestos Canada is lobbying parliament to ban imports, stop new installations and inform the public where the mineral has been used.(2)

News reports indicate that Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau supports a ban on asbestos. Trudeau told reporters that his government was moving forward on an asbestos ban in May 2016.

Asbestos in the United Kingdom

The U.K. first regulated asbestos back in 1931 by mandating a safe level of exposure. Two kinds of asbestos, crocidolite and amosite, were banned in the 1980s. Another variety, chrysotile asbestos, was prohibited in 1999.

The Control of Asbestos Regulations Act effectively banned asbestos in the U.K. in 2006. The legislation also mandated that asbestos removal be performed by a licensed asbestos removal professional and plans for removal must be approved by the Health & Safety Executive.

The National Health Service has conducted extensive research into the effects of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. The NHS operates several treatment centres for asbestos victims, including The Royal Marsden Hospital.(3)

Asbestos in the United States

Several federal laws require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate asbestos in the United States.

The EPA banned most asbestos products in the United States in 1989, but a federal court overturned the ban in 1991. There is a law requiring the removal of asbestos from schools, with the same law provides federal money for asbestos removal from educational buildings.(4)

A number of trusts have been set up to reimburse victims of asbestos in the U.S.A. The trusts, which are administered by federal courts, pay valid personal injury claims to victims of asbestos. The trusts were set up because a number of companies that manufactured or mined asbestos declared bankruptcy because of lawsuits filed by victims.(5)

Asbestos in India

Asbestos is widely used in the building industry in India, with many publications reporting the fact that asbestos use is booming despite the well-known health warnings. Although India no longer mines asbestos, it is a top importer of the deadly material.

This, among other reasons, is why experts say there will be a dramatic rise in asbestos-related diseases in India in the coming years. In fact, they say India will increasingly suffer from asbestos-related diseases for the next 50 years.

A group called the Ban Asbestos Network India (BANI) is pressuring Parliament to ban the material.

The Rotterdam Convention

Five of the six known types of asbestos are on the Rotterdam Convention Hazardous Substance List. The Rotterdam Convention is a “multilateral treaty to promote shared responsibilities in relation to importation of hazardous chemicals“.

The convention requires exporters to inform consumers and customers of the hazardous effects of material. Most countries have voted to add the sixth kind of asbestos (chrysotile) to the list, but the move has been blocked by exporters.

Australians need to be wary of imported products from countries that still use asbestos, because this deadly material is still mined and used for manufacturing and construction all over the world.

For more asbestos information, check out the ARA blog.