Asbestos use is still very much alive in the twenty first century. In the growing economies of India, China and other southeast Asia countries, imports have risen every year by over 2.1 million tons from the start of the decade, despite increasing asbestos awareness to the fatal health risks of exposure and the breathing in of the deadly fibres.
A severe lack of safety procedures and protective equipment in many of the asbestos industries of the importing nations means the long history of asbestos exposure continues with many thousands of workers eventually falling victim to asbestosis diseases.
Canada, in particular, is a leading global exporter of 90 per cent of its mined chrysotile to the developing world and their government has been under continued pressure from both its own medical practitioners and from the international community to ban the mining of the deadly mineral. At the UN Rotterdam Convention held in June 2011, the Canadian government once more blocked an attempt to place chrysotile asbestos on a restricted export list.
However, the recent announcement that the government-funded Chrysotile Institute – first began in 1984 as the Asbestos Institute to promote the so-called ‘safe use’ of white asbestos – may be the most definitive sign yet that its one hundred years of asbestos mining may be coming to an end.
A rising mesothelioma rate saw Canada significantly reduce its own asbestos use in recent years, and in 2011, the last two asbestos mines were closed down despite the reopening of at least one mine being considered.
In the UK, most asbestos types began to be banned from use as an insulation material in manufacturing, engineering and construction from the mid 1980s. Considered a low risk material, white chrysotile asbestos continued to be used in construction until imports were stopped at the very end of the twentieth century. All asbestos is now banned in more than 40 countries around the world, including all 25 countries in the European Union.
According to the World Health Organization, malignant mesothelioma is on the rise. An estimated 100,000 people fell victim to the incurable cancer between 1994 and 2008 – or over 6,000 each year around the world. Two-thirds of fatalities took place since 2000.
In the UK, it is predicted that 5,000 people will die from asbestos exposure each year by 2015 and at least a further 45,000 deaths from mesothelioma can be expected by 2050.