‘Safe use’ of asbestos is a myth

Published by rudy Date posted on July 2, 2009

The threat of Influenza A(H1N1) in the workplace and elsewhere has caught the attention of everyone.

Unremarked by the media, the threat of asbestos diseases puts workers, their families and the public in a similar if not more serious situation.

The construction industry provides the widest asbestos threat. Asbestos products are used in houses, buildings and structures as roofing felts or related products, cement roofing and flat sheets and plywood substitutes. Asbestos poses danger as long as these materials are in place.

Handling of asbestos wastes is alarming in companies with boilers, such as sugar centrals, and transport companies because of brake and clutch lining made of asbestos. Asbestos products are replaced every year not by specialist contractors but by ordinary workers who treat those asbestos wastes as ordinary wastes. The absence of special personnel protective equipments (PPEs) makes the situation more alarming. Workers are not even informed that asbestos is hazardous!

No amount of asbestos is considered safe. A worker exposed to asbestos is more likely to get an asbestos disease. Asbestosis and lung cancer are dose-related diseases, meaning the more asbestos one breathes, the more likely the person is to get sick. Mesothelioma is different—it can be obtained from very small amounts of asbestos. Asbestos workers’ families may get mesothelioma from the dust the workers brought home on their clothes, or from exposure to houses, buildings and materials with asbestos.

This belies Canada’s “safe use” claim. Canada is a top exporter of asbestos to the Philippines. It leads the propaganda for the asbestos industry and claims that asbestos is safe under controlled use. However, Canada has virtually banned asbestos itself and exports 95 percent of its asbestos to developing countries. Canada is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to remove asbestos from the Parliament Buildings and homes and schools across Canada. Asbestos use in homes and buildings is banned in the United States also.

On the occasion of Canada Day on July 1, 2009, the Associated Labor Unions (ALU), Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) and Building and Woodworkers International (BWI) joined in making a worldwide appeal to the Government of Canada to end Canada’s asbestos export to developing countries.

In the Philippines, the passage of a law banning asbestos and the formulation of a national, inter-agency, multi-stakeholder program on the elimination of asbestos-related diseases are initial steps in the right direction.

GERARD SENO, Associated Labor Unions (ALU);

RAFAEL MAPALO,
Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP);

APOLINAR TOLENTINO,
Building and Woodworkers International (BWI)

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