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Asbestos - Repeat call for universal ban is issued

Saturday, November 20, 2010 by: Amy Chaves, Ph.D.
Tags: asbestos, cancer, health news

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(NewsTarget) The Collegium Ramazzini, an independent, internationally renowned academy comprising of 184 top-notched scientists in the fields of occupational and environmental health, has issued a repeat call for a universal ban on asbestos. The first universal ban was issued in 1999. The 2010 repeat call for a universal ban is based on numerous research over the years which indicated that all forms of asbestos are proven human carcinogens and exposure to any type carries health risks, most notably, cancer. The Collegium Ramazzini, whose headquarter is in Italy, has termed all asbestos-related cancer as a pandemic.

Asbestos is a natural mineral, strong enough to resist high temperatures and chemical attack, yet so flexible that its crystals can be made into yarn, woven into cloths, or braided into ropes. Historically, it has been used for over 4,500 years. It has been used in buildings for insulation, and also widely used in transportation and electrical appliances, mixed frequently with other materials.

Asbestos has been known to cause asbestosis, a progressive and debilitating fibrotic lung disease. All forms of asbestos also cause malignant mesothelioma and lung and laryngeal cancers. They can also cause ovarian, gastrointestinal, and other cancers.

Worldwide, cancer deaths in workers exposed to asbestos is estimated to be 100,000 to 140,000 yearly. In Northern America, Western Europe, and Japan, 20,000 new cases of lung cancer and 10,000 cases of mesothelioma yearly are caused from exposure to asbestos. In 2006, death from mesothelioma was highest in Britain, with 1,740 deaths in men and 316 deaths in women, compared to other countries. It is expected that Australia's high incidence of mesothelioma will reach 18,000 by 2020.

There are two studies worth mentioning that illustrate the ill effects of asbestos. One was a historical, cohort mortality study conducted in 2007 in Libby, Montana, which showed that Libby workers who were exposed to asbestos-contaminated vermiculite were more likely to die from asbestosis, lung cancer, cancer of the pleura, and mesothelioma. Another study conducted in Canada in 2005 revealed a sevenfold increase in mortality rate from pleural cancer of women residing in Canadian asbestos mining communities.

Although asbestos has been banned in 52 countries and safer products are now being used to replace it, a large number of countries continue to use, export, and import asbestos and asbestos-containing products. In developing countries, where asbestos is imported in large quantities for construction purposes, dust contamination has been found to accumulate in thousands of communities. It is almost impossible to control exposure once asbestos settles in various buildings and places.

One country that has used its influence in international organizations to protect its export market for asbestos and has aggressively promoted the use of asbestos in developing countries is Canada. It is the largest asbestos exporting country in the world, next to Russia and China, based on a 2000 report. With the asbestos multinational corporations gone, Canada stands out as the most powerful opponent of international efforts to ban asbestos.

The Collegium Ramazzini considers the asbestos-related illnesses and deaths as a tragic pandemic that can be prevented. Since the risks of exposure to asbestos cannot be controlled by technology or work practices regulation, an international ban on the mining and use of asbestos is urgently needed. The Collegium Ramazzini is therefore asking all countries of the world to join in the international endeavor to ban all forms of asbestos as an obligation to their citizens.


Collegium Ramazzini (2010). Asbestos is still with us: Repeat call for a universal ban. American Journal of Industrial Medicine. DOI 10.1002/ajim.20892.

LaDou, J. (2004). The asbestos cancer epidemic. Environmental Health Perspectives, 112(3), 285-289.

Sullivan, P. A. (2007). Vermiculite, respiratory disease, and asbestos exposure in Libby, Montana: Update of a cohort mortality study. Environmental Health Perspectives, 115(4), 579-585.

About the author

Amy Chaves is a researcher, teacher, counsellor and writer. She has a Ph.D. in Counselling Psychology from the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She is currently writing a book on connectedness and writes blogs in her website, which can be viewed at http://amychaves.blogspot.com/

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