Asbestos makers falsely claim material safe, WHO says

BANGKOK POST Issued date 28 May 2012

PANNEE WONGTHIENTHONG

Certain business operators are denying the widely known fact that all forms of asbestos are dangerous, claiming chrysotile, or white asbestos, is safe,the World Health Organisation said.

WHO representative to Thailand Dr Maureen E Birmingham said she has seen T-shirts espousing the safety of chrysotile and even falsely attributing the claim to the WHO.

The T-shirts are being distributed by certain construction material producers which use chrysotile in their products.

The designs on the shirts claim the WHO has certified chrysotile as safe.

“They are using the WHO’s name in a misleading way,” Dr Birmingham said.

“The WHO has been very clear that all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile, can cause cancer,” she said.

There is no known safe level of exposure to any form of asbestos.

Dr Birmingham said it was hard to prevent asbestos fibres from spreading and even a low level of exposure can cause cancer.

This has prompted the WHO and the International Labour Organisation to recommend that all asbestos use be stopped worldwide.

Asbestos is a mineral fibre, commonly used in building construction materials and products such as cement,roofing, water supply lines and fire blankets. It can also be found in automobile brakes and clutches.

Dr Birmingham said about 107,000 people around the world die from asbestos-related diseases each year.Inhaling asbestos fibres can cause lung cancer or mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the chest and the abdominal cavity.

There is also convincing evidence of asbestos exposure leading to laryngeal and ovarian cancer.

She said that when asbestos starts to deteriorate, which can be caused by water, vibration, drilling, cutting or blending, fibres float into the air and can infiltrate the lungs when inhaled.The resultant cancer usually does not usually show up until 20-30 years after the exposure.

“It’s like a ticking timebomb in Asia.We need to take action now,” Dr Birmingham said.

Dr Nopporn Chuenklin, deputy director general of the Department of Disease Control, said while almost 50 countries have banned the use of asbestos and turned to safe substitutes, Thailand is still Asia’s third-biggest importer of asbestos after India and China.

Vithaya Kulsomboon, associate professor in the Department of Social Pharmacy, Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, said only three manufacturers in Thailand the Siam Cement Group, Mahaphant and Bendix have stopped using asbestos in their products after the previous government declared it a class 4 hazardous material last year.

The then-Democrat-led administration sought to ban the production,import and export of asbestos from April 2011, but the Industrial Ministry requested a delay in its enforcement while it looked into viable substitutes for the product.

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