Asbestos: Still a Killer Across the World

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According to the UK Health and Safety Executive, “Asbestos still kills around 5000 workers each year – this is more than the number of people killed on the road.”

It may be surprising to many people that asbestos continues to contribute to a significant proportion of deaths in the UK. This is even though its importation and use has been banned in the UK for many years.

In 1985, the UK banned the importation and use of blue asbestos (crocidolite) and brown asbestos (amosite), which are considered the most potent and hazardous forms of asbestos. In 1999, the Government extended the ban to include white asbestos (chrysotile).

The dangers associated with asbestos were well known, even decades before the first ban in 1985, so most people will consider the UK’s ban on only some types of asbestos in 1985 as “too little, too late”.

People still develop asbestos-related diseases now, years after the ban of asbestos in this country, because there is a latency period between when the exposure to asbestos occurred and when the symptoms develop.

For mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lung, symptoms typically occur around 40 to 50 years (on average) after exposure to asbestos. However, there are instances where people have developed mesothelioma 15 years after their exposure to asbestos or as long as 70 years after their exposure. For asbestosis, a progressive and irreversible lung condition where the lung tissue itself is scarred, the latency period is approximately 20 to 30 years on average.

While there is a ban on the importation and use of asbestos in the UK, asbestos is still inside many buildings in the UK constructed or refurbished years before. Therefore, people can continue to be exposed when carrying out refurbishment or maintenance work on older buildings if they or their employers don’t take the proper safety precautions.

Due to the long latency period associated with these diseases, the UK is sadly still suffering from a high number of deaths caused by previous asbestos exposure, 21 years after its asbestos ban.

Some say we have still not reached the peak in asbestos-related deaths. According to the Health and Safety Executive (commenting on statistics they compiled in 2019):

“Annual deaths have increased steeply over the last 50 years, largely as a result of asbestos exposure prior to 1980, and are now expected to continue at current levels for the rest of the decade.”

It doesn’t take much to imagine how much worse this could be if the ban was brought in any later.

Asbestos bans around the world

With this in mind, it is shocking that the UK is one of only 67 countries to have banned the importation and use of asbestos out of 195 countries. See the full list of the 67 countries.

Some of these countries do not have an asbestos ban, but they do have restrictions on the use of asbestos. Countries that still permit asbestos to be imported, exported, and used include the United States, China, Russia, and India.

Countries such as Russia, China and Kazakhstan still mine asbestos to this day.

  • Take Canada, for example – asbestos used to be a large part of the economy in Canada. They closed down their last asbestos mine in 2011, but it was not until 2018 that the Canadian Government made it illegal to import, manufacture or use asbestos. Even then, they permitted several exemptions which dilute the effectiveness of the ban. They still allow asbestos to be used in the chlor-alkali industry, nuclear facilities and road infrastructure.
  • If we look at their neighbour, the USA, they closed down their mines in 2002, and yet they continue to import raw white (chrysotile) asbestos from countries like Brazil for their chlor-alkali industry. While they import less than they did in the 1970s, the USA imported almost double the amount of raw asbestos in 2020 than they did in 2019. They do regulate the use of asbestos, but the USA falls short of a ban and various attempts at passing legislation in Congress to ban asbestos have failed.
  • As for Russia, they have blocked attempts by The United Nations to label white (chrysotile) asbestos an extremely hazardous product in international commerce, and it is also claimed that they intentionally fail to record the number of people diagnosed with mesothelioma. Russia still exports large amounts of asbestos to India, which still uses asbestos in numerous industries.
  • India no longer mines asbestos, but they are a large consumer of asbestos, and it is still freely used in many industries with no health warnings. Along with Russia, they too blocked any progress at the UN.

The future of asbestos diseases

Due to the ban on asbestos in the UK that has been in place for years now, the number of people developing asbestos-related diseases in the future should gradually decline.

However, in those countries that don’t take asbestos seriously, it is horrifying to think of the number of people who, in the years to come, will continue to develop asbestos-related diseases. Without a complete ban on asbestos, those countries are several decades away from a decline in cases and there are some people still being exposed to asbestos today who will go on to develop malignant mesothelioma in 40 or 50 years.

It is equally sad and frustrating that many of those instances of the disease could have been prevented. Instead, it is a ticking time bomb.

If you have been diagnosed with an asbestos disease and would like to learn more about claming compensation, call us on Freephone 0800 884 0777, email or fill out our online enquiry form for a free, no-obligation chat.

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