Kazakhstan Open to Debate on Asbestos

Kazakhstan wrote a new page in their history books by holding the first public open debate last week in order to discuss the issue of chrysotile asbestos.

Seventy-five participants from all sectors were brought together in The High Level International Expert Conference on “Asbestos and POPs—Policies and Practices in Kazakhstan and the European Union” in Astana, Kazakhstan. They discussed strategies for asbestos and POPs, or persistent organic pollutants. Participants at the conference adopted a resolution with recommendations on asbestos and POPs to the Kazakh government and offered support for a national program to eliminate asbestos-related diseases, which the World Health Organization will back.

Asbestos exposure is a very important issue in Kazakhstan. Approximately 220,000 metric tons are produced every year, and currently, asbestos containing materials are used without restriction in public buildings such as hospitals, schools and kindergartens, brakes and other materials.

Ivan Ivanov of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has recently reconfirmed that asbestos exposure leads to various diseases such as mesothelioma and cancer of the lungs, larynx, and ovary. WHO and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have both concluded that there are safe substitutes for asbestos.

Alain Couanon, the French Ambassador, compared Kazakhstan’s situation to France’s; France, along with 40 other nations, has banned all uses of asbestos, and he indicated that asbestos in France has caused more than 35,000 deaths, and could rise to an approximate 50 to 100,000.

The Deputy Director General of the German Ministry for the Environment, Alexander Nies, emphasized “that more than 40 countries had already banned the production and use of chrysotile asbestos because of its proven cancerogenity to humans. For countries like Kazakhstan with continuing chrysotile industry it is of utmost importance that adequate risk management measures are in place. Listing of chrysotile in the Rotterdam Convention would support the dissemination of risk-related information to importing countries and enable them to take risk-informed decisions to protect their citizens.”

“The joint resolution is a milestone for Kazakhstan in terms of asbestos. Never before the issue of potential hazards and health risks of white asbestos have been the subject of open dialogue. This was a real historic conference, which has opened the door in the right direction,” said Kaisha Athakanova, President of the Kazakh environmental NGO network Eco Forum and Sascha Gabizon, WECF Executive Director. They were extremely pleased with the outcome of the conference.