Around 100,000 workers die each year from asbestos-related disease. As the world’s top asbestos producer, Russia, with its strong government backing, vies with China and India to be the chief cause of future global epidemics of asbestosis and mesothelioma.
Despite 52 countries around the world, including the UK, US and Australia imposing a ban on asbestos use, a new deadly threat is posed by the unprecedented growth in other industrialising nations, with Russia, China and India leading the field. It is suggested that the cumulative death toll from asbestos related disease may reach 10 million by 2030.
To date, the annual death toll in Russia alone, is estimated at 10,400, but asbestos awareness has not influenced any change of attitude or production levels. Russia produces nearly 1 million tons per annum and exports almost half the world’s asbestos supply.
Russia is also the world’s third largest consumer, behind only China and India, with widespread use of asbestos material in roofing, automobile brakes, and insulation. Nearly 60,000 miles (95,000 km) of the country’s water pipes are lined with asbestos cement.
In April 2009, Russia’s Prime Minister Putin met his country’s International Trade Unions Alliance for Chrysotile (named after a common form of asbestos widely used today) amidst growing concerns about the global anti-asbestos movement, and promised to support Russian producers of chrysotile asbestos, especially in situations where they find themselves under international political pressure.
Since 1979, Orenburg Minerals, now Russia’s biggest asbestos producer, has been mining more than a half-million tons of chrysotile a year, from a deposit which holds about 25 million tons of asbestos, enough for at least 50 years of production.
Neighbouring Kostanai Minerals in northern Kazakhstan, produced 230,000 tons of chrysotile in 2007, and since 1965 has been tapping the world’s fifth-largest asbestos deposit of 37 million tons of chrysotile.
A potential time bomb is almost certainly to be ticking as another study predicts that as early as 2020, deaths from asbestos-related cancers could exceed 1 million in developing nations.
It has taken most of the twentieth century for western industrialised nations such as the UK and US to finally come to terms with facing up to their responsibilities for the horrific, incurable illnesses that the exposure to asbestos had brought to countless thousands of workers up until as recently as the 1970s and 80s. The long-term effects are still very much in evidence today as asbestos compensation continues to be claimed for those who were last exposed to the mineral some 30 to 40 years ago.
It seems almost beyond belief that asbestos production is once again now spreading across the globe, exporting a time delayed human catastrophe, the extent of which may far exceed all previous fatalities seen during both the 19th and 20th centuries combined.