With the rise and fall of the asbestos industry in Canada making headlines recently, it’d be easy for some to think that the global asbestos problem could immediately be solved with a ban. It sure seems to make sense: if we stopped mining and manufacturing asbestos, we’d be able to prevent deaths from asbestos-related cancers such as mesothelioma forever.
Unfortunately, a ban is only step one in the fight to beat asbestos-related diseases. Asbestos once was used so widely that it exists potentially everywhere. It can turn up in places you’d least expect it — in the ceilings and floors of buildings that were built before 1980, in duct tape, caulking and textured paints, and even in car brakes and other automotive parts, just to name a few.
Given the pervasiveness of asbestos over the years, signs of the material and deaths from mesothelioma can occur for decades after a country bans its use. One needs to look no further than the United Kingdom (UK) to see an example of how a country must manage its “asbestos legacy” long after it has been prohibited.
The UK government banned asbestos in 1999 with the passing of The Asbestos Prohibitions Amendment Regulations. However, The Health and Safety Executive, a UK government body responsible for the regulation and enforcement of workplace health, safety and welfare, estimates that more than half a million non-domestic buildings on the island of Britain contain asbestos to this day.
As a result, occurrences of mesothelioma in the UK are among the highest in the world. The UK government estimates that 4,000 residents die as a result of complications associated with asbestos exposure annually. Those numbers are expected to rise, since it can take years to develop illnesses after exposure to the deadly substance. By comparison, in the United States, there are an estimated 10,000 deaths attributed to asbestos-related diseases each year.
The dramatic rise in mesothelioma deaths both at home and abroad underlines the dangers associated with even the smallest exposures to asbestos. The United States will continue to face these same asbestos-related health risks so long as the material is allowed to be used – and perhaps even long after it’s banned.
There’s no reason for our political leaders to delay in banning this deadly material. It’s time to ban asbestos now.