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Defending the Indefensible

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A regional coordinating group was set up earlier in at a meeting in Bangkok. A-Ban is seeking an Asia-wide asbestos ban. It has its work cut out.


As the anti-asbestos activists know all too well, bans on international trade in asbestos have been barely disturbed the industry. Like Uralasbest, companies have merely shifted their marketing focus to developing countries where environmental and workplace standards are more lax. He recommends a global campaign in which activists "move much more strategically and collectively. I have felt we are too gentle in some way whilst our enemy, the asbestos industry, moves very collectively and aggressively.

Despite industry and government denials, evidence of chrysotile's harm was clear in lung X-rays showing unmistakable white patches indicating the inevitably deadly progression of mesothelioma--a cancer directly linked to asbestos exposure. Etched into the medical data on the corner of each film was the word "chrysotile," the supposedly safe form of the mineral.

The X-rays belonged to Dr. Domyung Paek, chest disease specialist and epidemiologist from the University of Seoul, Korea. His collection of medical transparencies showed that work-and environment-related chest disease leaves a distinctive radiological calling card that is easy to differentiate from tuberculosis and other lung diseases. All the victims in Paek's X-rays were Asian workers, belying the myth propagated by some Asian labor officials that asbestosis and mesothelioma are "Western" diseases.

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Paek predicted that Asian nations would see tsunamis of asbestos-related diseases, marked by the gasping deaths of the pale, drawn - and often young - victims. His view is supported by Japanese researcher Ken Takahashi, who on reviewing historical and global trends, found that marked rises in incidence and prevalence inevitably preceded national bans. Studies cited by McCulloch and Tweedale have found asbestos disease in young Russian and Kazakh workers with less than three years exposure. Victims usually die a year after diagnosis.

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Expensive drugs such as Alimpta and Platinol can lengthen a patient's life by up to six months, but are well beyond the capacity of Asian workers. Palliative care, a tall order in most poor countries, is the best they can hope for. The pain of mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases can be agonizing and requires the other white powder -- morphine -- to provide relief. Ironically many of the countries where asbestos disease is rife, such as India, have a shortfall in the supply of legal scheduled opiates.

Global asbestos story

But there is no shortfall in asbestos. In addition to the raw mineral imported from Russia and other countries, Europeans keep sending old ships to India and Bangladesh to be broken up. Bangladesh needs the steel, but along with it comes tons of old friable asbestos including the more dangerous brown variety. China, in addition to its role as major importer, also exports asbestos.

The sourcing website Alibaba. Tsyuyoshi Kawakami of the U. The Lao government, currently enjoying a resources boom, is thinking of exploiting its lodes of asbestos, according to a Lao NGO worker. There are some bright spots. Thailand, until recently one of the region's major users brake linings, gaskets, and roofing tiles , has reduced both importation and production of asbestos-containing goods.


Other Asian countries are beginning to rethink asbestos use. Cambodia, too, is starting to recognize that its burgeoning construction industry may bring the hazardous materials along for the ride. Skip to main content. Enter Keyword or Phrase. Melody Kemp. Tuesday, February 16, Skickas inom vardagar. In the early twentieth century, asbestos had a reputation as a lifesaver.

In , however, it became known that even relatively brief exposure to asbestos can cause mesothelioma, a virulent and lethal cancer. Yet the bulk of the world's asbestos was mined after Asbestos usage in many countries continued unabated. This is the first global history of how the asbestos industry and its allies in government, insurance, and medicine defended the product throughout the twentieth century. It explains how mining and manufacture could continue despite overwhelming medical evidence as to the risks.