Increasing use of asbestos in Asia
According to the World Health Organization, about 100,000 workers die annually from asbestos-related diseases out of 125 million people who are exposed to asbestos in the workplace.
What is of special concern to us is that based on a survey by the US Geological Survey, the use of asbestos is on the rise in the construction industry in Asia and the Middle East. With the ongoing construction boom in the Philippines, it is a vital concern for many of us, just how much asbestos is being installed in our buildings and homes.
Our construction workers are particularly susceptible to the dangers of being exposed to asbestos. Many of them work in substandard conditions with no protective masks or goggles or training. When they get sick, they do not get company or government benefits.
What is asbestos?
Asbestos is a substance that was once considered a “miracle mineral” when it was used in the building industry in the 1800s.
At that time, asbestos was found to be readily available and inexpensive making it an ideal substance for household construction offering many benefits with no drawbacks. It was very effective for thermal insulation, acoustic and moisture control, a nd it made cement strong. It was mixed into paints, adhesives, clay, metal ware and even appliances. It filled many needs in various ways.
Why is asbestos harmful?
Inhaling asbestos fibers increases the risk of developing lung-cancer-causing asbestosis or scarring of the lungs. This may lead to the development of mesothelioma, a rare cancer that afflicts people exposed to asbestos. It can develop decades after the asbestos exposure.
This is what happened to the emergency service workers during the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York on 9/11 when more than 1,000 tons of asbestos were released into the air. The unusually high death rate of emergency service workers from cancer since the disaster is linked to their inhalation of asbestos and other toxic elements.
Ban asbestos campaign
Almost 20 years ago, a global campaign was launched to ban asbestos. It addressed marketing campaigns, availability of safer substitutes, the need to protect workers and end-users from asbestos exposure and the rights of those affected by asbestos-related injuries.
The European Union, Australia, Japan, South Korea and other countries have outlawed it, according to International Ban Asbestos Secretariat. Several countries including Japan and South Korea banned asbestos after they saw the number deaths rise. Despite the ban, asbestos continues to be a part of the construction and manufacturing industries.
Some sectors are saying that if one follows the proper procedures, the health effects are trivial, if any. However the WHO says that all forms of asbestos are carcinogenic and potentially fatal, depending on exposure.
What to do about it
If your house was built in the 1970s, chances are that it may contain asbestos. If you have asbestos in your house that is in good condition, the best thing to do is to leave it alone. Avoid disturbing the asbestos material if you have to do any renovation works. Material in good condition will not release asbestos fibers.
Look for signs of wear or damage like cracks, abrasions or water damage. Material that is disturbed by hitting, rubbing or handling may release asbestos fibers.
Prevent or limit access to the area to prevent touching or disturbing it.
If asbestos is found in your house, seal the material by treating it with a sealant that binds the asbestos fibers together so that no fibers are released. This is done by asbestos professionals.
Another way is to cover the asbestos by a stable material to prevent release of fibers.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, some products that may contain asbestos are cement pipes, vinyl sheet flooring, acoustical plaster, ceiling tiles and lay-in panels, textured paints and coatings, spray-applied insulation, fire-proofing materials, laboratory gloves, fire blankets, elevator brake shoes, air-conditioning duct insulation and wall coverings.
For comments or inquiries, email [email protected]
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.