There were three main types of asbestos used extensively throughout the UK industry:
• Crocidolite (blue asbestos) – insulation lagging and sprayed coating, which has not been imported into the UK since about 1972.
• Amosite (brown asbestos) – thermal insulation up to the late 1960s, various sprayed applications and insulating boards until stopped in 1974 and unlikely to be found in buildings constructed after 1982, and spraying of asbestos, banned in 1986.
• Chrysotile (white asbestos) – commonly used in domestic appliances and building construction until mid-1980s.
However, elsewhere around the world, the situation is very different indeed. Despite of global asbestos awareness of the life-threatening risk of inhaling the deadly asbestos fibres, which lead to the fatal mesothelioma and asbestosis cancers, halting its use globally has been a difficult process, especially in the developing economies.
Europe and the United States were the largest users of asbestos during most of the 20th century. Around 25 countries were producing an estimated 4.8 million metric tonnes per year, with 85 countries manufacturing asbestos products at its peak use occurring around 1977. Whereas, in the 1990s, countries increasingly adopted bans on the use and importation of asbestos, there were – and still are – powerful trade and political barriers which act to prevent the ban on asbestos.
When France announced in 1996 that it would ban the use of asbestos, the Canadian government – a major exporter of chrysotile asbestos – protested at the World Trade Organization, arguing that the ban was an unreasonable restriction on international trade. Their claim was rejected on the both grounds of public health and that asbestos bans were not an unreasonable restriction on trade.
Asbestos has now been banned in more than 40 countries around the world, including all 25 countries in the European Union. According to the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, the following nations have banned the use of asbestos, either wholly or with minor exceptions:
Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Chile, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Gabon, Germany, Greece, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, New Caledonia, Norway, Oman, Poland, Portuga,l Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom (including England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland), Uruguay. Croatia adopted an asbestos ban in 2006, but after only six weeks, political and economic pressure forced a reversal and thus, asbestos still remains legal in Croatia.
There are still many other countries where asbestos use is legal and, in some cases, dramatically on the rise. The Canadian government, in particular, work directly with developing countries to support its asbestos market. In the fast developing economies of Asia – asbestos use, and exposure to its thousands of workers, is increasing.
The known long latency periods of between 15 to 50 years or more mean that incidence of asbestos-related disease worldwide are expected to climb over the coming decades leading to a predicted death toll of around 10 million by 2030.