The news is being extensively reported online… white chrysotile – the so-called “low risk” asbestos – has once again been blocked by four countries from being added to a list of dangerous substances requiring an import restriction.

At the UN meeting of the Rotterdam Convention held every two years in Geneva, top asbestos exporter Russia, along with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Zimbabwe, voted to block the inclusion of chrysotile needing a “prior informed consent” from countries who wish to import the hazardous fibres.

Refused to acknowledge the health risks

Their move was not unexpected. Russia, as well as China, Brazil, Kazakhstan, and until recently, Canada, are well known for continuing to mine and export white chrysotile asbestos to a number of developing nations, including India and Mexico. Worldwide production has actually risen by over 2.1 million tonnes to meet commercial demand by the building, aerospace and defence industries.

Despite increasing global asbestos awareness and considerable medical evidence, this is the fifth consecutive time that major asbestos exporting countries have refused the call from the international community to acknowledge the fatal health risks of mesothelioma they expose millions of their workers to every time asbestos is directly handled.

The next opportunity by the Convention to try and add white asbestos to the import restriction list will not be until 2017. By then, around 107,000 workers worldwide are expected to die every year from exposure to asbestos, according to the World Health Organisation.

Asbestos found in public swimming pool

Closer to home… the risks of exposure to white asbestos are also never too far away from the press headlines. The south east town of Chelmsford, coincidentally, is mentioned in two cases.

The seasonal May opening of an outdoor swimming pool – part of a large leisure centre in the Essex town – may be delayed because of asbestos contamination. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is to investigate how asbestos settled at the bottom of the pool although it is thought to have come through water circulation pipework, which may have been damaged during maintenance work last October.

The water filtration system of the outdoor pool is completely separate to the indoor pool and water samples have also been tested and found to be safe. Immediate measures were taken to restrict access to the outside area and Chelmsford City Council has also been advised that the asbestos poses no risk to the public or staff “while it remains in the water.”

No building considered safe from asbestos

Discovering the presence of white asbestos in unexpected places is not unusual and the health risks from regular occupational or environmental exposure continues to claim the lives of around 2,120 each year in the UK.

Despite the UK ban on the import of chrysotile in 1999, recognised by the Government Office for Science as a Class 1 carcinogen, the use of the fibres as insulation in the construction industry was known to have continued in the years after 1985 when the first asbestos ban was introduced. Construction industry spokesmen repeatedly state that no building – public, private, residential or commercial – should be considered safe from asbestos if it was built or renovated at any time up to the year 2000.

A high risk of constant exposure is faced by those employed in the building trades. The second asbestos story linked to the Chelmsford area concerns a painter and decorator who lost his life two years after being diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Testimonies to the presence of asbestos at former workplaces

The tradesman’s wife is trying to trace former work colleagues who may be able to help provide testimonies to the presence of asbestos at the various workplaces where her late husband was once employed.

The victim – who moved to Chelmsford in 1969 – was originally employed between 1955 and the mid 1970s in a building yard where asbestos sheeting was routinely cut up to make exterior fascia.

Further exposure to asbestos was thought to have occurred from the 1980s up until 1999 when the deceased worked at Hackney council preparing and painting asbestos insulation board used as panelling to enclose hot water cylinders.

It wasn’t until 2011, when the victim was only in his early seventies that the asbestosis symptoms of mesothelioma first appeared, and following a confirmed diagnosis in 2012, passed away just ten months later.

The HSE say that of the 1.8 million people who are annually exposed to asbestos in the UK each year the majority are employed in the building, demolition and waste removal industries.