The Asbestos Surge in Asia is a Global Problem

According  to The New York Times,  Asia currently accounts for 64% of global asbestos use, a nearly five-fold increase from the 1970s.  In light of these numbers, researchers are predicting a massive rise in asbestos-related diseases in the coming decades. The Asian Pacific Society of Respirology recently published a study on asbestos use in 47 countries, and found that Cyprus, Israel, and Japan had the highest age-adjusted mortality rates in Asia.  Some of the diseases that have killed hundreds of thousands of people include mesothelioma cancer, lung cancer, and asbestosis.

“Despite concerns of the global ARD epidemic and Asia’s growing importance in the world, data on current asbestos use and asbestos related diseases in Asia remain limited,” research leader and acting director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Occupational Health Ken Takahashi said in a statement. His study is aimed at informing public health planning and regional health policies in Asian countries.

Asbestos is the name given to a group of naturally occurring minerals often used in manufacturing, building and construction, the shipbuilding and automotive industries, in power plants, and even household products such as oven mitts and duct tape. Because it is relatively affordable, asbestos also tends to be attractive to developing countries, resulting in unregulated asbestos import and use in these nations. While asbestos has been largely phased out in the developed world (after contributing to the deaths of tens of thousands of people in America alone) it’s still common throughout much of the developing world. The World Health Organization has identified asbestos as one of the most dangerous occupational carcinogens, as many have developed mesothelioma symptoms due to asbestos exposure.

Dr. Ken Takahashi, author and director of a W.H.O. occupational health group, is concerned that “the sharp increase in asbestos use in Asia will see a surge of mortality and morbidity from asbestos related diseases in this region in the decades ahead.” There is a worrying lack of information concerning asbestos use and ARDs in Asia, and Asian governments have a long way to go yet in banning the use of asbestos. So even as the media explodes over the fires in Arizona, radiation leaks in Japan, and that ever-present climate change, we need to remember that problems exist in the developing world that may be quieter and less captivating, but no less insidious.

Asia’s “asbestos addiction” is fueled largely by Canada, which mines and exports the material, but has outlawed the use of the mineral within its own borders.  You can read more about the Canadian-Asian asbestos tie and subsequent controversy here.