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The Impact of Asbestos Use: Mesothelioma Diagnoses Expected to Rise Worldwide

A New York Times article that was published on June 20, 2011 warns that “heavy use of asbestos is expected to cause rise in deaths in coming decades,” specifically “in Asia over the next 20 years”.  The article cites as their resource, ‘The Official Journal of the Asian Pacific Society of Respirology’ which released a new study that suggests that the proportion of global asbestos use attributed to Asia has been steadily increasing over the years from 14% (1920-1970) to 33% (1971-2000) to 64% (2001-2007).   This increase has been reflected in the absolute level of per capita use across a wide range of countries. In contrast, 12,882 ARD deaths have been recorded cumulatively in Asia, which is equivalent to only 13% of the cumulative number of ARD deaths in the world during the same period. The highest AAMRs were recorded in Cyprus (4.8), Israel (3.7) and Japan (3.3), all of which have banned asbestos use.

“India, China and some other large Asian countries do not record asbestos data, so their official death counts are probably artificially low, the study said. “ Several countries, including Japan and South Korea, banned the mineral after they saw deaths climb.”

According to the Asia Monitor Resource Centre (AMRC), an independent organization which focuses on Asian labor concerns, “China, India, Indonesia, and Thailand are among the largest consumers of asbestos. Because markets in the West are dwindling, asbestos is heavily promoted in Asia.”

“In spite of widespread usage, reported cases of asbestos-related diseases are surprisingly few and reported cases of mesothelioma are rare in Asia except in Japan, Korea, and Singapore. But this does not mean that the problem does not exist.  The problem lies in diagnosis. Most of the asbestos-related diseases are not diagnosed in Asia and thus do not appear in government statistics. This deadly substance is killing workers. Unless drastic action is taken to stop its use, Asian workers as well as the general population will pay a heavy price.”

Since the mineral occurs naturally around the world, many countries have mined asbestos for domestic use as well as export.  Unfortunately, some countries still process, use, and export this toxic substance. Today, Asia accounts for over 45% of world asbestos demand. As developed countries ban or drastically curtail their consumption of asbestos, exporters of this carcinogenic material are working hard to develop alternative markets.  For Asian companies, this demand becomes a means to provide a cheap and efficient raw material for use in Asian industry and the potential to supply asbestos to surrounding countries and thus has caused a real potential hazard for the health and safety of Asian workers.

Here are some resources to read more about the use of asbestos and the health concerns worldwide:

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