Last week, Bloomberg published a story on the “slow poison” that was scarring the lungs of Indian citizens. The poison that they referred to is asbestos, a mineral used for its fire resistant properties and tensile strength. Asbestos is used in many products in India, including cheap roofing that is often used for slum housing. At $7 per sheet, the price is hard to beat; but the value comes with a serious hazard. Inhalation of the asbestos fibers released when the sheets are damaged can cause serious diseases such as mesothelioma cancer, an asbestos-related disease that affects the lining of the lungs and abdomen.
According to the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database, India is the world’s largest importer of asbestos. The Asbestos Cement Producers Association, an industry lobby group, claims that the country has over 100,000 people working for companies that produce or use asbestos materials. Many of these companies do not have the appropriate safety measures in place to keep workers safe when handling this hazardous material. Worse yet, asbestos exposure can occur second-hand, as families may inhale fibers that become imbedded in a worker’s clothing and are brought home.
Nearly 55 industrial countries have already banned asbestos, citing its well known health hazards as reason. Such nations include Japan as well as all the members of the European Union. Sadly, the United States has yet to ban asbestos outright, though the material is highly regulated. Canada has banned the use of the mineral inside the country, but still mines and exports asbestos to India and other countries.
It seems that the international community as a whole is concerned about Canada’s exports, and not simply its asbestos practices. The Vancouver Sun reports that the European Parliament slammed Canada on the annual seal hunts and the practices of the oil industry which harm natural biodiversity. Hopefully the increased media coverage and mounting international pressure will convince Canada to ban asbestos exports and close their mines.