South Africa Announces Complete Asbestos Ban; Pressure for Ban Increases in Malaysia

South African Minister for Environmental Affairs and Tourism Martinus van Schalkwyk announced on March 28, 2008, that South Africa will ban the use, manufacture, or processing of asbestos, effective immediately. The government will allow a grace period of 120 days for merchants or industrial concerns using asbestos to clear their stocks.
The prohibition bars the import or export of any asbestos, or any product containing asbestos. It does allow the importation of asbestos or asbestos-containing products from other members of the Southern African Development Community, and does permit the use of asbestos in research applications. Manufacturers can also apply for exemptions to the ban if they can demonstrate that no suitable alternative to asbestos products exists. Some 50 countries around the world prohibit the use of asbestos, because the fibrous mineral has been conclusively linked to the development of respiratory diseases including asbestosis, lung cancer, and malignant mesothelioma.

South Africa was formerly a major producer of asbestos, and was the fifth largest producer of chrysotile asbestos, as well as producing 100% of the amosite asbestos and 97% of the crocidolite asbestos used worldwide. Asbestos has long been banned in most industrialized countries, with the United States having a partial ban in place and most European countries banning asbestos outright. Pressure has grown in the developing world for similar bans, as the deadly nature of asbestos-related diseases becomes more widely understood. In early May of 2008, the Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC), a major labor union in the Pacific island nation of 28 million people, launched a petition drive demanding that the government ban the use of asbestos in construction and manufacturing by the year 2010. MTUC secretary-general G. Rajasekaran decried his country’s approach of regulating the use of asbestos, saying “ Malaysia till now has only came up with regulations on the safe use of asbestos, but that is not enough. In fact, there is no such thing as safe asbestos.” Asbestos is used widely in the Malaysian construction industry and among manufacturers because of its tensile strength, acoustic properties, and resistance to heat and corrosion.