WHO Moves Toward Universal Asbestos Ban

On 4 October 2007 the U.S. took a major step forward toward becoming the 41st nation to ban all uses of asbestos. There are still however many countries, primarily in Asia, in which asbestos is still widely produced and utilized and where it continues to pose a major health hazard.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labor Office (ILO) wants to change that. Recently, the ILO issued a plan for the development of national programs that would eventually eliminate asbestos-related diseases around the world. This plan was created in response to a WHO report published over a year ago. In 2005, World Health Assembly Resolution 58.22 was passed urging all member nations to focus more on the prevention of cancers in which risk factors can be avoided by the elimination of workplace toxins.

Worldwide, asbestos continues to be the cause of around 50% of all of these occupational-related cancers. Figures indicate that 125 million people throughout the world still suffer from asbestos exposure in the workplace on a regular basis. This is due mainly to construction and demolition activities. Asbestos is still a component of motorized vehicles in many parts of the world; scrapping of old sea-going vessels also contributes to ongoing asbestos exposure around the world. The WHO estimates that 90,000 deaths are attributable to asbestos-related diseases worldwide. Because of the latency period of such diseases, the rate of asbestos-related deaths continues to rise, even in those nations where all uses of asbestos have been banned. WHO estimates suggest that even were there a global ban on all asbestos tomorrow, it would be several decades before the death rate from asbestos diseases began to level out and decrease. Crocidolite asbestos was banned under Convention No. 162 of the ILO in 1986; today, all member states of the European Union, Japan and 12 other industrialized nations have also banned the use of chrysotile, the most commonly used form of asbestos. However, chrysotile production has continued to increase in some other countries, such as China, causing the amount of chrysotile to remain the same over the past several years. The vast majority (90%) of all chrysotile asbestos currently produced goes into building materials that are primarily used in developing countries. Other uses include friction materials (brake linings), textiles, and the manufacture of cheap electrical appliances.