The global picture of asbestos use is a continuing battleground for the many organisations concerned over the rising death toll from incurable mesothelioma cancer among the asbestos importing nations. Many international asbestos awareness lobbies vigorously campaign to highlight the long term deadly health risks in the main asbestos using countries such as Canada, Russia, China, India and Mexico.

Despite more than 50 countries having banned asbestos fibres as an insulating material in the last two decades, around two million tonnes of the mineral is still used each year, over two thirds in the developing nations.

Rising mesothlioma forecast

While Britain finally banned the imports of chrysotile asbestos white asbestos in 1999 and its use prohibited by EU directive in January 2005, elsewhere across the world, the asbestos economy continued to flourish. Up until the late 1970s and early 80s, around 5 million metric tonnes of asbestos was being used by around 25 countries per year and supplying to 85 countries involved in industrial scale manufacture of asbestos products.

Consequently, The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that between 1994 and 2008, more than 92,000 deaths were caused by mesothelioma and other asbestosis diseases, worldwide, with two-thirds occurring after the year 2000. Current forecasts expect mesothelioma mortality rates to reach as high as 10 million or more within the next two decades or 100,000 each year.

Declining asbestos use

However, there is room for optimism. It has been observed that sustained pressure by both internal lobby groups drawn from medical research and international organisations have helped to gain ground in changing opinion, often leading to asbestos reduction legislation or an outright ban.

In September 2012, the newly elected Quebec government cancelled the reopening of Canada’s last and only asbestos mine with an estimated annual export of 250,000 tonnes. Ottawa also announced that they will no longer veto the decision for chrysotile white asbestos to be officially included as a hazardous material on the “Prior Informed Consent” list at the Rotterdam Convention.

By 2012, research also showed striking evidence that over the preceding decade there had been a 46 per cent fall in the number of asbestos consuming countries and three times the number of countries banning its use. Between 2000 and 2012, the number of national bans had risen from 18 to 55 and a reduction in asbestos using countries from 66 to 36.

However, in stark contrast to Europe where asbestos use was shown to have dropped by 35 per cent to 22 per cent, Asian countries saw a rise by 47 per cent to 68 per cent over the same period. South America only achieved a modest fall from 10 per cent to 8 per cent.