Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that once was lauded for its versatility, recognized for its heat resistance, tensile strength and insulating properties, and used for everything from fire-proof vests to home and commercial construction. It was woven into fabric, and mixed with cement.
Asbestos was a perfect blend to make things better – except it was highly toxic, too. Today asbestos is a known cause of mesothelioma cancer, is banned in more than 50 countries and its use has been dramatically restricted in others.
Products which contain asbestos can generate fibres when they are damaged, disturbed, weathered or old: in these circumstances, fibres are released into the atmosphere and asbestos exposure through respiration can occur.
Homes and apartments built before 1980 often are filled with asbestos, needing only normal wear and tear with age to dislodge the fibers and send them airborne. Asbestos can be found in floor tiles, roofs, furnaces, plumbing, appliances, fireplaces and window caulking, leaving most everyone vulnerable.
India is becoming a graveyard for the dying ships. And so it is, for the workers of the shipyards too. Ship breaking is also environmentalists’ nightmare. Toxic materials, most of which are highly hazardous, are dumped in the ship-breaking yards of India. The most tragic part of the story is the fate of the workers who are facing fatal occupational hazards. Not to forget, India is the one of the six surviving ship-breaking nations in the world, along with China, Bangladesh, Turkey, Pakistan and Myanmar.
Migrant workers dismantle the ships with their bare hands. Almost one out of every three workers suffers from cancer making ship-breaking one of the deadliest industries in the world. Even their sleeping quarters are not free from danger. Many are also injured or killed by suffocation or explosion related mishaps. The saddest part is that the workers are mostly temporary and are not covered under any labour benefits.
In the early 1900’s, health workers started to notice a significant number of people with severe lung problems and a number of early lung-related deaths in towns that mined asbestos. The first case of ‘asbestosis’ was diagnosed in Britain in 1924. By the 30’s, the UK laid down some regulations regarding ventilation and made asbestosis an excusable work related disease.
It was a series of diseases that led to the identification of the toxicity of Asbestos. The first wave of asbestos disease occurred in workers involved in the mining and milling of crude asbestos and in the manufacture of asbestos products. The second wave affected workers using asbestos products; e.g. insulators, pipe-fitters, construction workers. The third wave is associated with exposure to asbestos in situ; e.g. plumbers, electricians, carpenters and refurbishment workers. In addition para-occupational exposure experienced by relatives of asbestos-contaminated workers is resulting in an increasing number of victims among the wives and children of asbestos workers who brought the dust home on their work clothes. Environmental exposure, such as that experienced by the plaintiffs in the Armley case, has also caused disease.
Use of asbestos has been banned by most countries but it still is prevalent in society thanks to its widespread use until the 70s. It is believed that more than 1,000 tons of asbestos were released into the air during the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York on 9/11. Inhalation of asbestos and other toxins are thought to be the cause of the unusually high death rate of emergency service workers from cancer since the disaster. Currently, Russia is the world’s largest exporter with Canada coming in second. The largest consumers are India and China, with high demand in other developing countries.
Developing nations like India and China are ignorant and also callous. And awareness seems to be the need of the hour. EPSCO Envirotech is trying to set standards and strict guidelines for asbestos abatement. They are bringing in experts to our country to educate and train people who work in proximity with this deadly mineral.