Environmental Protection

Commentary: Doctor Renews Call for International Asbestos Ban

Joseph LaDou, M.D., and other Fellows of the Collegium Ramazzini said that although 52 countries have banned asbestos, many others still use the mineral, exposing millions of people to an agent for which there is no scientifically verified safe level. LaDou contends, “All asbestos-related diseases are preventable if asbestos is banned globally.”

LaDou expands on this issue in the July issue of the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Asbestos is a general term for a group of naturally occurring fibrous minerals with high tensile strength, flexibility, and resistance to thermal, chemical, and electrical conditions. Since the industrial revolution, asbestos has been used in construction materials such as building insulation, automobile parts, concrete-reinforced water pipe, and cement because of its durability.

Chrysotile asbestos represents nearly 100 percent of all asbestos currently produced and 95 percent of all the asbestos used worldwide since 1900. Annual world production of asbestos is still more than 2 million metric tons. An estimated 125 million people worldwide are exposed to asbestos at work, and many more may be exposed at home in countries where asbestos products are still used. This includes several developing nations.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and the U.S. National Toxicology Program have declared all forms of asbestos to be proven human carcinogens. Among many other adverse health effects, asbestos also causes asbestosis, a progressive, debilitating lung disease. Each year tens of thousands of asbestos-related deaths are estimated to occur worldwide.

Although industry maintains chrysotile asbestos can be used safely under controlled conditions, exposures occur due to inadequate use of protective equipment or engineering controls, particularly in developing countries with limited resources or regulations to protect workers. In addition, general populations are exposed when asbestos is released from products that contain it—for example, when older buildings are demolished for urban renewal projects or when asbestos-bearing materials begin to degrade.

Other authors of the commentary are Barry Castleman, Arthur Frank, Michael Gochfeld, Morris Greenberg, James Huff, Tushar Kant Joshi, Philip J. Landrigan, Richard Lemen, Jonny Myers, Morando Soffritti, Colin L. Soskolne, Ken Takahashi, Daniel Teitelaum, Benedetto Terrachini, and Andrew Watterson. The Collegium Ramazzini is an international academic society of 180 clinicians and scientists from around the world who examine and evaluate critical public health issues in occupational and environmental health.

EHP is published by the NIEHS, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. EHP is an open-access journal, and all EHP content is available free online at www.ehponline.org/.

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